Everyone knows that construction sites are some of the most dangerous places to work. Add alcohol to the mix and it can be a recipe for a deadly and costly disaster. With the building boom happening in New York City and other cities around the country, there’s been a spike in construction fatalities. While there’s no way of telling how many of those have involved alcohol, it’s clear that alcohol use among construction workers remains a serious risk.
According to data compiled by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) from 2008 to 2012, construction workers have the second highest rate of heavy alcohol use among adults aged 18 to 64 employed full time, and they have an abnormally high heavy drinking rate even after controlling for age and gender.
A couple of recent sting operations have served to highlight the problem.
Lunch hour or happy hour?
In September 2015, WBZ-TV in Boston released the results of an undercover investigation in which they repeatedly observed construction workers enter a bar, have several drinks, skip lunch, and return to their jobsites.
In another undercover sting operation conducted last month by WABC-TV Eyewitness News in New York City, reporters obtained surveillance footage of numerous construction workers from multiple jobsites drinking heavily in bars during their lunch hour, then returning to their jobsites and resuming work.
A dangerous lack of oversight
Safety advocates and construction attorneys in Boston say there’s a certain cultural acceptance of the problem, with many companies failing to strictly enforce alcohol use policies. Inspectors overseeing safety of these sites too often turn a blind eye because they’re hired by the general contractors.
Even the federal government seems to be AWOL on this issue. The Bureau of Labor and other government agencies don’t keep statistics on how often alcohol is cited as a contributing factor in accidents involving injuries or fatalities. And the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) doesn’t have any statutes addressing alcohol use on construction sites.
A recent statement by the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York (LRANY) points to the WABC-TV exposé as further proof that New York’s Scaffold Law encourages unsafe behavior by failing to hold intoxicated workers culpable for their actions. Workers who drink during the workday continue doing it because they can get away with it, and no one is holding them accountable.
One thing is certain: Employees who use alcohol and come to work at your jobsite are driving up your risks.
And those risks go beyond safety issues. Alcohol and drug use among your workers can result in lost productivity, increased absenteeism, theft, and low employee morale, just to name a few issues. Substance abuse also leads to higher healthcare costs, more legal liabilities, and higher workers' compensation and other insurance costs.
In short, alcohol use among your workers can be an extremely expensive problem, and getting a handle on it is crucial to jobsite safety and to your bottom line. Strict enforcement of a substance-free workplace should be part of your overall risk management strategy, including implementing an alcohol and drug testing program.
Visit the Construction Coalition for a Drug- and Alcohol- Free Workplace (CCDAFW) website for more about controlling alcohol and substance abuse among your workers. And talk to the New York construction insurance experts at BNC to find out more about how creating culture of safety can keep your construction insurance costs down.