Is drinking on a construction site really that important?
I like the occasional adult beverage. There's nothing like a cold beer at the end of a long day, and Jose's Cuervo is my personal friend. Most of us know that alcohol and saw blades don't mix. Apparently, however, some employees didn't feel they had received that particular memo.
Back in 2016, the local ABC affiliate in New York opened a giant can of worms in an investigative report. They follow a group of construction workers to lunch and detail how much they must drink before returning to work.
The report mentioned construction workers were drinking "sip after sip of beer, sip after sip of hard liquor". It went on to find that "…many construction workers drank heavily for as little as 45 minutes, had little to no food, and then went back to high-rise work, operating power tools and installing heavy crane loads."
Why Everyone Should Drink Alcohol at Work
Lawmakers and union representatives are concerned. Drug and alcohol testing is an issue that must be negotiated for workers represented by unions. In New York at least, both parties have publicly expressed their desire to work together to have consistent breathalyzer testing on the job site.
Gilbane, the company at the center of the 2016 investigation, also appears to be working on mandating drug and alcohol testing. They ended up firing several workers because of this report, which also includes video footage.
how this applies today
Fast forward to today. What does this mean for drinking on construction sites in areas where unions don't represent construction workers? What about right-to-work states like Florida?
I've mentioned "legislators," so you know OSHA isn't too far behind. Currently, OSHA has no specific regulations regarding alcohol. It addresses this issue by requiring employers to provide a safe working environment. This type of disclosure requirement could land your company in trouble if you know employees drinking in the workplace or coming to work under the influence.
What to do as a business owner
As a business owner, one of the last things you want to face in court is an allegation that a worker was under the influence. It gets worse when you realize it's a problem.
Whether OSHA will respond with any specific regulations remains to be seen / For Gilbane – they fired some workers as a result of the investigation and supported mandatory alcohol and drug testing. In New York City, officials, union leaders and industry representatives have called for such mandatory alcohol testing.
Drinking on the job as a construction worker
Many construction workers, if they were honest, would admit to having a drink during a break. Some people even do it on the clock at certain times – even if they don't make it a habit. Still, it's a terrible risk. You may be personally liable for damage, injury or death caused by your actions.
Basically, don't drink alcohol on the job site. once.
See the big picture and do your part
It all points to a potentially larger problem. Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are rampant in the construction industry. It's arguably the industry with the greatest risk of injury, even without alcohol or drugs. Mandatory safety meetings to raise awareness are not enough. We need to care enough about our employees and their families to take a strong stance when it comes to drinking in the workplace.
It is up to each employer to establish policies regarding alcohol consumption and how it is handled in accordance with state and local laws. In my personal opinion, suspension without pay or even unemployment is far better than loss of life or limb.