Boozing before work

January 11, 2010
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By Dave Johnson “There was a time when drinking on the job was not only accepted, it was considered one of the major perks of joining the workforce.”

This comes from a 5,190-word article, “Juicing on the Job – The Working Drunk’s guide to getting crocked on the clock,” courtesy of Modern Drunkard magazine, which boasts of “standing up for your right to get falling down drunk since 1996.”

A 5,190-word piece on business boozing also proves: 1) There is a magazine for every lifestyle and individual imaginable; 2) Political correctness is not as pervasive as it may seem; and 3) Your workplace does indeed need a substance abuse policy that address alcohol as well as drugs.

This recent news story from Las Vegas reinforces the last point:

Two more union workers — electricians — were fired from a huge Vegas construction project after being identified in photographs as drinking alcohol at a bar and then entering the construction site, the project's general contractor said, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

They had been photographed by the Review-Journal after the newspaper received reports from readers who said they had observed construction workers drinking at nearby bars. Five union workers, including three ironworkers who were fired on August 7, have been fired by Perini Building Co., the general contractor on MGM Mirage's $9.2-billion development, after being photographed drinking and then entering the CityCenter job site in violation of rules set by the unions and contractors, according to the article.

Over a six-week period, ten workers were observed at bars across from the development drinking before entering the job site.

According to the most recent four-year labor agreement between contractors and United Association Union Local 525, which is composed of plumbers and pipe fitters on the CityCenter project, workers are prohibited from "having present in their bodies during working hours detectable levels of drugs or alcohol over the nationally recognized standard," according to the article.

But the union's language allowing random testing when there is "reasonable suspicion" a worker is under the influence of drugs does not mention alcohol.

The good conscience caveat Even in Modern Drunkard’s “Juicing on the Job” article, which justifies imbibing because “most jobs suck,” the author offers this caveat:

“…if your job involves a steering wheel, great heights, carrying a suitcase containing nuclear launch codes, machinery that may casually remove a limb, or, for the love of God, driving a bus full of adorable school children, it’s best to find another job. Because you cannot, in good conscience, drink while working under those circumstances. For all its benefits, being lit doesn’t improve your motor skills, depth perception or sense of balance. The last thing you want to do is kill someone or lose a hand…”

That said, the article list construction work as one of the tried-and-true drinking professions: “Despite the inherent dangers, shrill investigative reporters (Editor’s Note: see the Las Vegas news account above) routinely catch these men getting hammered at lunch then jumping behind the controls of fifteen-ton cranes. If you ever wanted to gaze upon a monument to on-the-job drinking, stick your head out the nearest window and take a gander at your city’s skyline.”

At-risk industries Research backs that up. Employers in certain industries are more at risk for employee substance use and abuse, including alcohol.

The major industry groups with the highest prevalence of illicit drug use during the period of one surveyed month were accommodations and food services and construction. Those with the lowest prevalence were the utilities industry, educational services, and public administration, according to “Worker Substance Use and Workplace Policies and Programs” published in 2007 by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS Publication No. SMA 07-4273, Analytic Series A-29).

About 16.9 percent of workers in the accommodations and food services industry and 13.7 percent of workers in the construction industry reported illicit drug use in the past month, according to the study.

The major industry groups with the highest prevalence of heavy alcohol use were construction, arts, entertainment and recreation, and mining. Those with the lowest were health care and social assistance and educational services.

About 15.9 percent of workers in the construction industry and 13.6 percent of workers in the arts, entertainment and recreation industry reported heavy alcohol use in the past month.

Heavy drinking is defined as five or more drinks on five or more occasions in the past month. Binge drinking: Five or more drinks on one occasion.

Statistics show… As OSHA says on its web site topic page “Substance Use and Abuse”: Most drug users, binge and heavy drinkers, and people with substance use disorders are employed. And substance use and abuse is not necessarily limited to after work hours, leading to the risk of impairment on the job.

An estimated 3.1 percent of employed adults used illicit drugs before reporting to work or during work hours at least once in the past year, with about 2.9 percent working while under the influence of an illicit drug, according to the report, “Prevalence and distribution of illicit drug use in the workforce and in the workplace: Findings and implications from a U.S. national survey,” published in 2006 in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

An estimated 1.8 percent of employed adults consumed alcohol before coming to work, and 7.1 percent drank alcohol during the workday, according to the study, “Prevalence and distribution of alcohol use and impairment in the workplace: A U.S. national survey,” published in 2006 in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol.

Finally, from the same report: An estimated 1.7 percent of employed adults worked while under the influence of alcohol, and 9.2 percent worked with a hangover in the past year.

Small businesses most vulnerable Smaller firms may be particularly at risk of harm by worker substance use and abuse. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about half of all U.S. workers work for small and medium sized businesses (those with fewer than 500 employees). But about nine in ten currently employed illicit drug users and almost nine in ten employed heavy drinkers work for small and medium sized firms. That finding comes from “Worker Substance Use and Workplace Policies and Programs,” published in 2007 by the Department of Health and Human Service.

As OSHA says, smaller businesses are less likely to have programs in place to combat the problem. Yet they are more likely to be the employer-of-choice for illicit abusers. Individuals who can’t adhere to a drug-free workplace policy seek employment at firms flying under the radar. OSHA emphasizes the cost of just one error caused by an impaired employee can devastate a small company.

That risk is what magnifies the stakes of a seemingly minute and almost acceptable percentage — the estimated 1.7 percent of employed adults who work while buzzed on booze.

Basics of a substance abuse policy Every organization’s policy should be tailored to meet its specific needs, according to OSHA. Still, all effective policies have these four common elements:

Reason: Rationale can be as simple as a company being committed to protecting the safety, health and well-being of its employees and patrons and recognizing that abuse of alcohol and other drugs compromises this dedication.

Clarity: At a minimum, this should include the following statement: “The use, possession, transfer or sale of illegal drugs by employees is prohibited. Note this sample policy does not address alcohol specifically, but you might want to.

Consequences: There may include discipline up to and including termination and/or referral for assistance. Consequences should be consistent with existing personnel policies and procedures and any applicable state laws, according to OSHA.

Communication: Sharing all policies with all employees is essential for success, says OSHA. Employers should be certain that all employees are aware of the policy and drug-free workplace program.

Editor’s Note: After several significant transportation accidents, Congress passed the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991. Covering roughly 12.1 million employees in aviation, trucking, railroads, mass transit, pipelines and other transportation industries, the Department of Transportation publishes rules on who must conduct drug testing, how frequently, and under what circumstances.

The Act mandates pre-employment, reasonable suspicion, post-accident, random, and follow-up/return to duty drug and/or alcohol testing of state employees in positions requiring the possession of a Commercial Drivers License and defined as safety-sensitive. The Act mandates that employees must not:


  • Report for duty or remain on duty while having a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.02 percent or higher;
  • Possess, use, or be under the influence of alcohol while on duty;
  • Perform any safety-sensitive function within four hours of using alcohol;
  • Use alcohol for hours hours following an accident, or until such employee has undergone an alcohol test; or
  • Refuse to submit to a required alcohol test.
  • Report for duty or remain on duty when under the influence a controlled substance. Prohibited controlled substances include: cocaine, marijuana, opiates, amphetamines and phencyclidine.

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