BY BOB MIODONSKI of CONTRACTOR’s staff
BALTIMORE — Although the nation’s unemployment rate is rising, one group of workers seems to be finding jobs. During their Power Meeting XIX July 17 here, Quality Service Contractors discovered that 73% of drug users say they’re employed and 15.5% work in the construction industry.
“The construction industry has the highest rate of drug usage of any industry; compare that to manufacturing, which has 8.1%,” said Judy Swartley of M. Arthur Consulting Group. She said 75% of cocaine users take drugs on the job, and 64% of them say it affects their performance.
Very few small companies — only about 3% of firms with less than 200 employees — do drug testing of job applicants or employees, she said. In contrast, about half of larger firms test for drugs.
“As a result small companies become a haven for drug abusers, a place where they can go,” Swartley said. “If you don’t have a drug program, you probably are hiring the drug-test failures from your competitors.”
She noted that while society has made many illicit drugs against the law, alcohol is legal.
“That’s a big difference and that’s why some companies just do drug testing,” she said. “But alcohol testing is just as important.”
One big reason for drug-and-alcohol testing is to keep the company safe, Swartley said. Almost half of workers’ comp claims are related to substance abuse. Employees with a drug or alcohol problem are five times more likely to file a workers’ comp claim.
Even those companies that test for drugs may not be doing enough because drug abusers can find help in masking test results, she said. More than 40 Web sites offer advice and products on how to beat urine tests.
They include www.urineluck.com, which tells site visitors, “Pass any drug test — guaranteed!” Another site www.3wave.com/irt/html offers an electronic device called the Urinator, which allows people being tested to substitute clean urine or water.
Other “stealth” products available for sale on the Internet include freeze-dried and synthetic urine, temperature-controlled pouches that strap onto the thigh to keep clean urine at body temperature until test time, and cherry- and lemon-lime-flavored drinks that mask drugs in the urine.
“Anybody can beat a urine test,” Swartley added.
As an alternative, she suggested QSC members consider oral tests, which are faster and cheaper as well as more convenient, reliable and dignified. Oral tests frequently involve taking a saliva sample with a swab, snapping the swab into a test tube or similar container, and sealing it for delivery to a lab.
Different swab tests can be performed for drugs as well as for alcohol. And the tests can be done anywhere at any time without losing labor hours.
While a many firms do pre-employment screening and may test for drugs and alcohol after a jobsite accident, Swartley urged QSC members to consider random tests as part of their programs. Saying that she works primarily with electrical and plumbing contractors, she noted that her clients typically lose 5% to 20% of their employees when they start random testing.
“With random testing, no one knows when it will be done or who will be picked,” she said.
For contractors who think that they can’t afford to run the risk of losing employees, Swartley noted that the contractor — not the employee — would be held legally liable if a drug-related accident occurs.
“One lawsuit could put you out of business,” she said.
On the other hand, contractors that have a drug program can market themselves in their Yellow Pages ad, Web site or elsewhere as being a drug-free company, she said. But contractors must be serious about adhering to their policies.
“Once you have a drug-and-alcohol policy, you can’t deviate from it,” Swartley said. “If you do it once, you’ve sent the message that it’s negotiable.”