Keeping Employees Drug-Free

Oct. 6, 2009
In today’s sluggish economy, most companies are exploring ways they can reduce inventory, personnel and expenses in general. But according to an executive with a Chicago construction association, many businesses may be overlooking a prime cost-saving measure: keeping employees drug-free.

“Because drug testing may involve additional expense, some business owners and managers may decide against it,” said Tony Adolfs, executive director of the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) of Chicago. “Drug testing policies help improve employee performance in most work settings. In settings where employee error can result in property damage, injuries, or loss of life, such as construction jobsites, it is definitely an option worth exploring.”

According to Johns Hopkins University, the economic burden of substance abuse to the US economy is estimated at $414 billion each year. Each year, 16,000 deaths are due to illicit drug use. This estimate is likely to be conservative, as drug abuse is indirectly associated with deaths due to homicides, other violent crimes and incidental injuries, as well as such diseases as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and tuberculosis.

The American Council for Drug Education states that substance abusers on the job are:

• 10 times more likely to miss work.
• 3.6 times more likely to be involved in on-the-job accidents – and five times more likely to injure themselves or another in the process.
• 5 times more likely to file a worker’s compensation claim.
• 33 percent less productive.
• Responsible for health care costs that are three times as high as those of non-abusers.

“On construction jobsites, the repercussions of jobsite drug abuse can go far beyond negative impacts on individual workers,” said Adolfs. “Expensive delays and skyrocketing insurance rates can throw projects off-schedule and off-budget. If Chicagoland building owners and contractors want to improve the bottom line – especially in this sluggish economy – they need to make sure they are employing a 100 percent drug-free workforce.”

Leaders of SMACNA Chicago and their work force, Sheet Metal Workers Local 73, believe so strongly in the value of drug testing, they have developed and implemented drug-testing policies for their workers.

“Under the policy, workers are expected to report to work free of illegal drugs,” said Adolfs. “In addition, workers cannot conceal, buy, sell, transfer, or possess drugs on a jobsite. Employees are expected not to misuse or abuse prescription or nonprescription medications. Also, medicinal marijuana is not allowed because it is illegal under federal law, notwithstanding any usage permissible under Illinois law.”

Individuals covered by the policy are required to submit to drug testing in accordance with this program. Testing takes place on a regular basis, and individuals selected for random testing are instructed to report to a participating collection site at the end of the next business day.

Covered individuals may also be tested if there is reason to suspect that their work performance or on-the-job behavior is affected in any way by drugs. Safeguards have been established to protect the rights of workers and ensure the accuracy of the testing process. Contractors that are signatory to the union are required to comply with the testing program, and penalties for non-compliance include a minimum fine of $2,500.

“Promoting safer jobsites and greater productivity are top priorities for SMACNA Chicago and our signatory contractors,” Adolfs said. “We want Chicagoland construction to thrive, and drug testing provides essential support in achieving that goal.”

SMACNA Chicago provides its member contractors with the latest training, information, and services vital to maintaining their edge in the sheet metal industry. For more information on the association, visit

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