Ice abuse rampant in construction industry, calls for mandatory on-site drug testing

Construction worker with hardhat

CONSTRUCTION bosses are calling on the Queensland Government to introduce tough compulsory drug-testing on building sites as employees fear attacks from co-workers hooked on ice.

Employer groups say it is often impossible to tell workers are using crystal methamphetamine – or ice – until they explode in anger.

“Building workers have said they are sick of being bullied or treated horribly – even violently – by colleagues with the ice epidemic,’’ Master Builders Queensland director of policy John Crittall said.

It comes as research highlights the building industry as one of the sectors most affected by the ice scourge.

A National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction report, prepared for the National Methamphetamine Symposium in May, found that amphetamine use in the construction sector was twice as common as among the general population.

Four in 100 building employees admitted going to work while under the influence of drugs.

In a submission to the current federal Senate inquiry into crystal meth, Australian Industry Group says: “Members report that unlike substances such as cannabis or alcohol, the impact of ice in the workplace is extremely difficult to manage and predict.

“Employers consistently report that it is often impossible to determine whether an employee is under the influence of ice without formal drug and alcohol testing.

“The threatening and abusive behaviours that some employers have reported from ice-affected employees also create safety risks for co-workers, managers and customers and damage productive working relationships.’’

The submission says: “These drug-affected behaviours are all the more dangerous and threatening when they occur in regional or remote work sites where there are generally fewer community services to provide help.

“Employers report that the erratic, volatile and irrational behaviour that can result from prolonged ice usage often makes any constructive dialogue with the employee near impossible.

“Bosses were often left with no option but to sack the worker.”

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union nationally is close to finalising its own policy on drug and alcohol testing. That would support mandatory breath and saliva testing for everyone at work sites.

But Master Builders Queensland says it does not go far enough, and wants to see random urine testing included.

“A major point of difference is the union policy is around ‘impairment’,’’ Mr Crittall said.

“Employers do not want to get into an argument what level you have to be at to constitute impairment. We think being affected (by drugs or alcohol) should be enough to require you to leave the site.

“If you have alcohol or drugs in your system, you are not fit to work.’’

The previous LNP government was considering mandatory testing for workers on taxpayer-funded projects, monitoring a similar model in Victoria.

But the policy was scrapped by the incoming Andrews government in Victoria, and Queensland is not actively working on any regimen here, although it has not ruled it out.

Industrial Relations Minister Curtis Pitt said: “Any mandatory workplace alcohol and drug testing policy would need to include a strong focus on rehabilitation and support services.’’

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