Substance Abuse Act to Protect Public Works Employees

A measure aimed to protect employees in the public work sector by prohibiting on-the-job use, possession and distribution of drugs and alcohol was passed by the Illinois General Assembly last month, with support from the Mechanical Contractors Association (MCA).

State Sens. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, and John Cullerton, D-Chicago, as well as State Rep. David Winters, R-Shirland, worked to pass the bill, dubbed the Substance Abuse Prevention and Public Works Project Act or the Illinois General Assembly’s Public Act 095-0635, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2008. The act mandates that public works employees may not use, possess, attempt to possess, distribute, deliver or be under the influence of drugs or alcohol while completing work on a public works project. This legislation follows the example of drug and alcohol testing policies already put in place by many labor unions and private sector contractors to ensure a safer work environment.

The legislation requires employers to develop written substance abuse prevention and testing programs prior to beginning public works projects. Employees must submit to pre-hire, random, reasonable suspicion and post-accident drug and alcohol testing.

Specifically, employers must develop programs with a minimum requirement of a 9-panel urine drug test, as well as a test for alcohol. A blood test may be used for post-accident testing, but is not mandatory if a urine test can suffice. The act does not require employers to administer testing prior to the start of work for employees who passed a random test within the last 90 days.

Employees who test positive for drugs or a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.02 or above must immediately be removed from the project and placed on inactive status. Workers who tested positive must either successfully complete a rehabilitation program or be deemed eligible by a counselor before returning to work.

“The bill on mandatory substance abuse testing for employees on public projects should increase the safety of construction job sites funded by government programs,” said Evan Williams, vice president of external relations for MCA Chicago.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration cites a high rate of past-month substance abuse among full-time workers in the construction industry, with the rate of illicit drug use of 13.7 percent and heavy alcohol use rate of 15.9 percent. This record of drug and alcohol abuse highlights the need for such an act, which also can reduce liability within the public works sector.

For more information:
Illinois General Assembly: Substance Abuse Prevention and Public Works Project Act

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