In addition to potential health and safety risks, the main concerns raised by the SPOA include:
- The lack of a clear deterrent to prevent plant operators turning up unfit for work or even to remain fit during working hours.
- When plant operators fail a drug or alcohol test, they are often sent home driving the vehicle they arrived in.
- While employers can be punished if a member of staff has failed a drug or alcohol test, the plant operator who failed the test is not.
- When a plant operator is dismissed by an employer for failing a drug or alcohol test, they can find employment elsewhere if record keeping is inadequate.
Speaking about the issue, SPOA president Callum Mackintosh said: “I am extremely disappointed that the CLC does not regard the widespread and very serious issue of drug and alcohol abuse in the construction industry as a priority.
"The CLC has failed to produce a policy on the issue, which I would regard as the bare minimum. There is currently no deterrent to prevent plant operators from turning up for work whilst under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
“The SPOA believes that there should be scope to remove competence cards if a plant operator fails a drug or alcohol test. The industry should approach this in the same way as the consequences of any driver who drives whilst under the influence. We believe that failure to tackle this issue is a ticking timebomb with a serious accident on a construction site simply waiting to happen."
Under the influence
Mackintosh pointed to research published by the Considerate Constructors Scheme which found that 59% of those surveyed had concerns over the effects of drugs and alcohol in construction. In addition, 35% noticed their colleagues under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and 25% agreed that drugs and alcohol affected them at work through tiredness.
Mackintosh added: “The CLC’s creation was a result of the 2013 Pye Tait report. That same report also gave the CLC the power to investigate the best ways of establishing a common industry approach to the limited life of all cards, the renewal process and any required revocation processes.
“The CLC, therefore, has the power to act and the whole industry is looking to the Council to show leadership on this issue.”
The SPOA has considered the current approach in the rail industry, where failed drug or alcohol tests can lead to competence card holders having their cards either temporarily suspended or permanently revoked. The association has confirmed with the National Plant Operators Registration Scheme (NPORS) and the Construction Plant Competence Scheme (CPCS) that they have the mechanics in their systems to introduce a similar scheme for the construction industry.
A CLC spokesperson said the issue of alcohol and drug abuse has been discussed at previous CLC meetings. They added that members highlighted good practice that exists in the sector.
CLC is currently reviewing how this can be disseminated to companies to support a better understanding of the issues, and to drive improved performance.