Skip to Content

View site list



Substance abuse tops learning forum panel discussion

Warren Frey

Substance abuse in the workplace was a hot topic at the Vancouver Regional Construction Association’s (VRCA) recent Construction Learning Forum in Whistler, B.C.


Mike McKenna with the British Columbia Construction Safety Alliance moderated the panel Managing Substance Abuse in the Workplace.

There is a misconception that drug users are usually not employed, said Construction Labour Relations Association of B.C. director of human resource services Dave Earle.

In fact, 70 per cent of drug and alcohol abusers are employed, and substance abuse in the workplace is much higher than is commonly thought, he said.

Cocaine is by far the most widely used drug in the construction industry, added Earle.

“There’s lots of guys working long hours in isolated communities away from their support structures and there’s an expectation of – what else is there to do?” he said.

Cocaine is also used because workers think it stays in the system for a much shorter time than marijuana, and is therefore more difficult to detect using drug testing.

“It’s a much tougher drug to deal with and it’s a lot more addictive in a lot of ways than marijuana,” Earle said.

He also pointed out that while marijuana use is still illegal in Canada, it is commonly used and the industry must adapt to that fact.

“The issue from our standpoint is impairment at the workplace, not if you’re a marijuana user,” Earle said.

Drug testing in the workplace is another hot-button topic, and it was generally agreed amongst the panelists that testing should always be performed by a third party, not the company itself.

“They (the employer) should not be the testers. They shouldn’t be collecting samples or have anything to do with administration of that, simply because there’s too much of a risk for them to have chains of custody broken and have different things happen where through all good intentions, bad things happen,” Earle said.

Earle also stressed that employers actually shouldn’t look at results and should instead rely on third-party validation.

“It’s entirely possible that an individual who has a legitimate medical prescription will be involved in an incident in the workplace and test positive,” Earle said.

Another problem raised by the panel was that since labour is in such high demand in Western Canada, employers have fewer options and employees, who have tested positive, can simply move on.

“For people who do test positive they just simply move from job to job,” Earle said.

“It’s becoming harder and harder because we work in such a transient industry. Individuals will move from site to site, and if they’re not confronted with their behavior, they’ll continue to exhibit that behaviour and continue to use until such time as something really bad happens. And then, everybody’s in the glue,” he said.

For blogs from a number of the workshops, as well as video from the Construction Learning Forum visit

Recent Comments

comments for this post are closed

You might also like