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How does substance abuse affect construction safety?

If you're a construction worker, it's likely that you realize that substance abuse on the job is a major problem. Your life may one day depend on a coworker's skills and judgment, and if they are impaired, it could result in your death.

The inherent dangers of construction work provide more potentially lethal situations for workers than any other occupations in America. While your own unsafe behavior can expose you to harm, so can others' negligent actions.

The problem isn't just with the construction industry — over 95 percent of all the companies in the United States report substance abuse problems in the workplace. Yet, under its General Duty Clause, the Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to provide "a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm."

The National Institute on Drug Abuse conducted a survey in 1988. In it, more than 28 percent of those working in the construction trades admitted to illegal drug usage. The figure indicated the highest percentage of drug usage in any surveyed industries.

This high rate contributes to a high rate of on-the-job injuries. Drug testing can offset some of this risk, but even when workers are aware they will be tested, as many as 5 percent still test positive for unauthorized drug use. Illegal substance usage rates peak for those age 17 to 30, the demographic group with the highest number of workers in the field of construction.

Workers' compensation may cover some claims of injuries and damages from construction accidents, but it doesn't necessarily cover all the losses workers and their families might face. Filing suit against those responsible for your injuries can preserve your right to pursue compensation.

Source: International Risk Management Institute, "Substance Abuse," accessed Sep. 29, 2016

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