Safety and wellbeing have become even more urgent issues following recent survey results showing that 59% of contractors, suppliers and clients worry about the increasing injury and fatality impact of drug and alcohol abuse on and around UK construction sites, says Jon Herbert.
A survey (29 June 2016) carried out by the non-profit-making Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS) has found that 6 out of 10 people questioned across the construction industry are concerned about the harm being caused by widespread drug and alcohol use in one of the UK’s most demanding working environments.
Some 35% of those questioned reported seeing colleagues trying to perform responsible jobs while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. A quarter added that drugs and alcohol use was affecting their role directly or indirectly; 23% believed that decreased attention affected them at work. Tellingly, 39% felt that much more can and should be done to tackle workplace substance abuse problems.
In addition, 65% said that they had never been tested for drugs and alcohol at work, while 19% agreed that drug and alcohol use made them personally less productive.
It is estimated that up to one in seven construction industry workers have serious alcohol problems.
Major effects are said to be tiredness, decreased attention spans during critical tasks that could potentially affect employees, local people and communities, plus reduced productivity.
Action this day
A growing number of building companies are now taking action, implementing steps not only to ban drugs and drink from construction sites and public areas around them, but also introducing positive wellbeing initiatives.
CCS’s Chief Executive Edward Hardy put the problem into context, saying, “Maintaining a safe working environment is of the utmost importance for any employer; this not only applies to the workforce, but also the surrounding public and anybody else who may be affected.”
He added that it was time to address the problem. “It is clear action must be taken across the industry to ensure workforce safety, health and wellbeing on sites and in companies throughout the UK.” The CCS’s “Spotlight … on drugs and alcohol” campaign is designed to raise awareness while protecting the UK’s construction workforce.
Falling from heights is a primary cause of construction industry accidents and fatalities, followed by contact with machinery or electricity and being struck by moving vehicles. The effects of drug/alcohol use exacerbate this.
At the same time, employers have a care responsibility for their employees’ safety and can be liable personally for the prevention of occupational accidents under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.
For this reason, in addition to having robust health and safety policies in place, an increasing number of companies are now introducing routine drug/alcohol testing programmes as a proactive way to not only improve worker’s wellbeing in general, but also to meet the legal requirements of the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974.
A number of rules and regulations referring to both employer and staff duties make this quite intrusive intervention possible.
First, are the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 which require main contractors to draw up, put in place and implement a plan in writing that specifies health and safety rules. When developing such a plan, companies have an opportunity to insert clauses banning the use of drugs and alcohol. Other legal constraints which affect drivers using the public highway are included in the Road Traffic Act 1988 and the Transport and Works Act 1992.
There is some evidence from the USA that companies which introduced organised drug and alcohol testing have seen a 51% reduction in work-related injuries within the first 24 months.
Global Commitment Challenge
Many leading companies are going a serious step further with well-meant interventions to positively improve staff wellbeing.
It is not unusual on many construction sites managed by enlightened contractors to see employees wearing technology, recording the number of paces they step each day. Working long sedentary hours behind desks is now considered to be extremely unhealthy. Sitting still has even been likened to the “new smoking”. For office-based staff, this can be a difficult trait to avoid.
The NHS quotes recent studies that link excessive sitting with weight and obesity problems, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and premature death. Prolonged sitting is now believed to slow metabolism. This, in turn, affects the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and breakdown of body fat.
“Wearables” is an emerging branch of the digital revolution designed to get workers back on their feet and make a difference. Wearable devices can monitor and, therefore, help to control the health, safety and wellbeing of workers, not only on site but also throughout their extended working day — and weekends if they so wish.
Today, many UK companies also actively encourage their staff to participate in the Global Commitment Challenge (GCC). For 100 days each year, hundreds of thousands of employees around the world are joining a programme designed to improve their physical and psychological health. Beyond the 100 days, GCC provides a 12-month platform to continue awareness, education and motivation throughout the year.
The aim is to empower employees to take personal responsibility for their own physical and mental wellbeing and realise that what they do today has a direct impact on how they feel tomorrow.
GCC gives employers a simple and engaging way to create a health culture across their business.
Over two decades, it claims to have helped to transform the cultures of thousands of the world’s leading organisations and improve the health and performance of nearly two million employees.
The scheme’s four-pronged approach is based on science and proven results, plus the principle that any health programme should be carried out with the involvement of employees, and not to them. The idea is that people must engage willingly because ultimately, only an individual can make the key lifestyle changes required to improve his or her own physical and mental health.
The empowerment cycle starts with individuals becoming more aware of their overall health and how their lifestyle choices measure up. The programme provides motivation to change, before arming them with the education and tools needed to make lasting improvements to their health, performance and lives.
As the benefits mount, their confidence increases and drives their motivation to push harder, creating a self-perpetuating cycle.
However, changing attitudes and lifestyles cannot happen overnight. Trying to change too many things at once sets the stage for failure — which is why the GCC is built on a gradual, ground-up approach that improves the mind as well as the body.
Providing practical, consistent health advice and support also helps employees who are confused and overwhelmed by the mass of conflicting health and exercise advice available today, GCC says.
When confidence and habits improve, employees discover that change can be enjoyable and easy. They tend to eat more healthily, sleep better and develop psychological strategies ensuring they are physically and mentally ready to perform at their best.
Image is important
CCS was set up in 1997 by the construction industry to improve its image.
Construction sites, companies and suppliers register voluntarily and agree to abide by the Code of Considerate Practice, designed to encourage best practice beyond statutory requirements.
The scheme covers any construction activity that could have a direct or indirect impact on the image of the industry as a whole and falls into three categories: the general public, the workforce and the environment.
The logic is that construction has a huge impact on everyone’s life, with most work taking place in sensitive locations. If all sites and companies present an image of competent management, efficiency, awareness of environmental issues and neighbourliness, they become a positive advertisement for themselves and the industry as a whole.
The Code of Considerate Practice commits participants to caring about appearance, respecting the community, protecting the environment, securing everyone’s safety and valuing their workforce.
The scheme is open to all types and size of organisation and construction activity, with many construction companies and clients automatically registering all their work as company policy.
Registered sites are monitored. If passers-by want to comment, the name and telephone number of the site manager or company’s contact is displayed clearly. The freephone number of the scheme’s administration office is shown too. Registered companies and suppliers also display a vehicle sticker or magnet showing their unique registration number on every vehicle using the public highway.
Sites should be registered before any construction activity starts.
NHS figures have also shown that some 20–30% of workplace accidents can be linked to alcohol in safety-critical industries such as construction.
Alcohol concern has found that 27% of employers believe drug misuse is a work problem; 60% have experienced problems with their staff drinking alcohol.
The Institute of Alcohol Studies said in 2015, that 33% of employees admit to working with a hangover from the night before affecting their own productivity and safety.
TUC data from 2010, indicates that 3–5% of all work absences are due to alcohol.
The World Health Organization also reported in 2015 that three million deaths annually are the result of harmful drugs and alcohol use.
Published by Croner-i on 23 August 2016