Drug & Alcohol Testing Within the Construction Industry

Drug & Alcohol Testing Within the Construction Industry

James Gunter

The UK’s soaring drug culture has affected the workplace, driving smart companies to conduct regular alcohol & drug testing.

 "Recent statistics have shown that the vast majority of those within the construction industry are concerned about drug & alcohol use in the workplace. With employee safety already a concern due to the nature of the job, (with construction workers six times more likely to be killed at work than any other industry), throwing drugs & alcohol into the mix inevitably leads to increased accidents" [1]

A Clear & Present Danger

The fact of the matter is that it's a common occurrence for construction workers to be given their marching orders due to being seen to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol in the workplace. However, this is just part of the scenario, as a percentage of workers who do the same, often go undetected, and slip through the net, even when the company conducts on-site random tests. To that end, the dangerous scenario is still present, and this puts both the alcohol and substance abuser, and their colleagues, and in some cases, the general public, at serious risk of being involved in an accident [1].

The Buck Stops Here

Construction companies and their directors are responsible for the safety of their employees, other associated people, and the general public, who are in close proximity to their building sites, and other construction projects. In order to address this serious responsibility, those in charge of the company, should conduct regular voluntary testing procedures (that employees have to agree to). This includes top grade user-friendly self-testing kits which have a high accuracy rate. To that end, the application of such tests should be incorporated into any employee contracts, whether they are permanent employees, or just temporary workers.

Of note, the Health and Safety Executive will check companies for compliance post-incident. And this is one reason why it is vital to only order alcohol and drug testing kits from a reputable UK supplier. For example, all the testing kits sold by Drug Testing Kits UK, are specifically designed to conform with the latest Health & Safety and legal regulations in the UK and the Irish Republic. All companies and organisations in these regions have to adhere to the regulations. Drug Testing Kits UK are legally compliant, and are quite different to the legally non-compliant drug testing kits which are sold by non-British manufacturers. - Many of which misleadingly use a UK website address.

Did You Know that Construction is the Second Most Dangerous Job in the UK?

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) classes construction as the second most dangerous type of work, after farming. It notes: "From heights and protective gear to dangerous equipment and unsafe structures, construction has a high injury rate of 3.1% as well as one of the highest rates of workplace deaths" [2]. And this is why alcohol and drug testing within the construction industry needs to be implemented by all employers before it becomes mandatory.

'Not being compulsory,' is not a viable excuse for companies wanting to escape from the extremely serious legal consequences of an accident that occurred because one or more of their employees was/were under the influence of alcohol or drugs. To that end, common sense dictates that it is never worth cutting corners, and ending up paying massive legal fees, and dealing with expensive tribunals and investigations. Not to mention, in some instances, being criminally charged, fined, and at worse, imprisoned.

So Many Potential Health Risks

Working in the construction industry is synonymous with: unloading heavy materials and equipment from lorries, disassembling and assembling structures, operating heavy machinery (such as cranes), working on scaffolding which could be many stories high, digging shafts and tunnels, and more [2]. Taking these elements into account, there is absolutely no doubt that if construction workers are on the job, and are not focussed, or in optimum mental or physical health due to acute or chronic alcohol or substance abuse, then the Health and Safety risks can be extremely severe. Moreover, their distorted state of mind could negate their duty which involves strict adherence to the current Health and Safety regulations.

Potential Side Effects From Consuming Alcohol or Drugs

  • Unstable balance and/or coordination
  • Reduced awareness, such as sub-optimal vision or hearing ability
  • Problems focusing
  • Poor decision-making
  • Inept judgement [2].

For anyone who is working on, or is in, or close to a construction site, all of the aforementioned aspects could be potentially dangerous, and even fatal [2].

Putting a Spotlight on the Stats

The Considerate Constructors' Scheme conducted a study involving over 1,300 industry workers. Of these, 35% stated that they: "have noticed their colleagues under the influence of either alcohol or drugs while on the job" [2]

Moreover, other important results show that:

  • 65% of workers have never been given a test for alcohol or drugs
  • 59% of workers have concerns related to the impact of alcohol and drugs within the construction industry
  • 39% of workers feel that the issue of alcohol and drugs could be handled more effectively by their company/employer
  • 25% of workers were in agreement that alcohol or drugs affected their work, as these substances made them feel tired
  • 23% of workers were in agreement that feeling tired due to the consumption of alcohol or drugs, had a negative effect on their work, because it reduced their attention span
  • 19% of workers were in agreement that the negative impact of alcohol or drugs, rendered them less productive [2].

After analysing these study results, the chief executive of the Considerate Constructors Scheme,

Edward Hardy, remarked: "Maintaining a safe working environment is of the utmost importance for any employer; this not only applies to the workforce, but also the surrounding public and anybody else who may be affected" [2].

The Current Status Quo of Drug & Alcohol Testing in the Construction Industry

"While drug testing is legislated in many sectors – such as rail, aviation & shipping – surprisingly it isn’t mandatory in construction. Yet" [2]. But there is an enormous price which construction companies will be forced to pay, if something does go wrong when one of their employees is found to be under the influence...

Drug Testing

While it is apparent that testing employees for drugs is still not commonplace in many work sectors across the UK, (due to testing not being mandatory); the construction sector is an exception. - Indeed, as the Trades Union Congress notes, in this case, testing is in fact, on the rise. Moreover, this Union highlights the reality that: "where wide-scale drug testing has been considered by employers or industries, it has been rejected typically due to concerns about costs or about the effectiveness of the testing" [2]. Yet where is their concern about serious Health and Safety issues? And what are their thoughts on this aspect being part and parcel of rudimentary employee costs? And are they not aware of the latest high tech cutting-edge drug testing kits which provide highly accurate results?

Drug & Alcohol Testing

Follow the leaders: One construction company that is synonymous with success, is Barratt Homes. Clearly mindful of the reality of substance abuse on the job, they set up random drug tests in the latter part of 2018, and have never looked back. Further, Interserve PLC, has stated that it: "maintains an extensive platform of information, resources, police and support, to tackle drug and alcohol usage, and carrying out testing on contractors as well as permanent employees" [2].

Random Testing

The frightening level of alcohol and drug abuse within the construction industry, was highlighted for all to see, after staff at an international construction firm in the UK, were subject to random drug testing. "The test was conducted by a reputable drugs testing agency, and the results were extremely concerning: 100% of employees failed" [2]. Don't let this be the case with your construction company...

Bottom Line

If your construction company turns a blind eye to alcohol and drug abuse, or is unaware that it is going on, the consequences can be so catastrophic, that you could be charged with corporate manslaughter, and/or go out of business. Moreover, the negative publicity from fatalities and serious accidents due to workers who are intoxicated, or negatively affected due to drugs, could take a serious toll on your business. And this is not solely down to financial losses; cases involving manslaughter on construction sites, and the neglect of the companies responsible, are regularly reported in middle market online papers, which are read by millions of people, and shared even further to countless others. And these get picked up by other media outlets. Now is the time to update your existing alcohol and testing policies. Do not wait until it is too late...


[1]. Construction UK Magazine (2021). "Drug & Alcohol Use In Construction."


[2]. The Insurance Factory (2021). "Drug and alcohol abuse in the UK construction industry."