Chapter Corner

Zero Tolerance

Posted in: Features, May/June 2015

Izero.gifn the past five years, more than 20 states (and the District of Columbia) have either legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes or decriminalized possession of small amounts of the substance. Two states—Colorado and Washington—have voted to legalize marijuana entirely. These numbers reflect a growing trend in the United States towards legalizing the use of what were once considered illegal, mind-altering substances for recreational use.

Legalization of marijuana—along with the explosive growth in synthetic drug use— poses a serious threat to the construction industry. When alcohol and other illegal drugs are included, substance abuse costs America’s employers, on average, close to $100 billion per year in workers’ compensation claims, equipment damage, and productivity. The International Risk Management Institute cites that substance abusers have incidence rates 3.6 times above normal and are 2.5 times more likely to be absent from work—meaning lost productivity. In construction alone, 15.6 percent of employees reported using illegal drugs in the previous 30 days, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The monetary and productivity costs of substance abuse in construction are important, but pale in comparison with the physical and emotional damage that substance abuse-related injuries and fatalities wreak on the men and women of the industry. A widely-respected joint U.S. Department of Labor/private sector study cited that 38-50 percent of all workers’ compensation claims are related to substance abuse. With a Total Recordable Incidence Rate of 3.7 injuries per 100 full time employees, 1-2 construction industry employees out of 100 are injured because they, or someone they work with, caused an incident while under the influence. Worse, out of the more than 700 construction industry fatalities per year, at least 250 can be attributed to substance abuse, based on the Department of Labor statistics.

Even one injury is unacceptable. That’s why, in 2012, leading construction industry trade organizations came together to form the Construction Coalition for a Drug- and Alcohol-Free Workplace (CCDAFW). Founding members included Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. (ABC), the Associated General Contractors of America, Inc. (AGC), the Construction Industry Roundtable (CIRT), and the Construction Users Roundtable (CURT). Representing employers, employees, and the owner/user communities, these four organizations came together with the goal of eliminating substance abuse in the construction industry.

“When the CCDAFW was formed, we did so recognizing that substance abuse in our industry was a major cause of injuries on our jobsites,” said ABC President and CEO Michael Bellaman. “At least one third of all incidents were being caused by an employee coming to work under the influence or after having made poor decisions on the jobsite; so, we asked ourselves, how can we eliminate the root cause of these injuries and achieve our goal of a zero-incident jobsite? The answer was to come together and pool our resources, expertise, and power to educate the industry on the hazards of substance abuse but also in how to properly detect possible cases and head them off before they resulted in injuries.”

In 2015, the CCDAFW welcomed two new members—the Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC) and National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER). Representing both industry members and training organizations, both the IEC and NCCER provide new avenues to promote the solutions to the substance abuse epidemic developed by the CCDAFW.

IEC believes in developing and fostering a stronger economy through the level of quality and services its members provide to the industry. With more than 3,000 member companies in 53 chapters throughout the USA, the association serves as the voice of the electrical and systems contracting industry on policies affecting its membership. IEC makes safety one of its core values so that members can keep themselves, their workers, and their businesses healthy and safe.

“Safety is always at the forefront of IEC,” states IEC National Executive Vice President/CEO Thayer Long. “We are committed to our members’ safety, health, and quality of life.”

“Workplace safety goes beyond having the proper personal protective equipment—it includes being mentally sharp and prepared to react,” Long continued. “That is why IEC fully supports the unequivocal elimination of substance abuse in the workplace. We are proud to join other organizations in the pledge for a drug-and alcohol-free workplace.”

Through the Coalition’s website,, companies can sign the Drug-Free Workplace Pledge committing themselves to working towards eliminating substance abuse in the construction industry. To date, more than 3,300 industry partners have signed the Drug-Free Workplace Pledge. The website also contains numerous resources available, free of charge, to the industry. These resources, developed by CCDAFW members and their industry partners, include a state-by-state guide of testing laws, guidance on how to test for substance abuse before an incident, how to talk to employees about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse, and, most importantly, sample substance abuse policies that include testing procedures.

A 2002 study from JK Gerber & GS Yacoubian showed that the workers’ compensation Experience Modification Ratings modification factors of companies with substance abuse policies that included some form of drug testing to be lower than those of companies that did not employ testing procedures. In addition, the average injury claim declined after institution of drug testing.

For 2015, the CCDAFW is developing updated substance abuse policies that address employer and employee rights in states where marijuana has been legalized, as well as testing policies and procedures for synthetic substances.

"Our ultimate goal is to make sure that every one of our industry’s employees goes home at the end of the day in the same—or better—condition than which they arrived,” said ABC’s Mike Bellaman. “By eliminating the injuries and fatalities caused by substance abuse, we can make substantial progress towards that goal and help eliminate the emotional damage that these incidents cause our employees and their families.”