Ron Adams, Vice President Risk Management, Baker Roofing Company; Nina M. French, President, Employer + Law Enforcement Solutions, Hound Labs, Inc.
Cannabis, technology, and construction:Acombination that most have not thought about. The truth of the matter is that legal cannabis is here to stay. It’s not about if, it’s about when the construction industry understands how to handle it. 35 states have legalized cannabis for medical use and 15 states have legalized it for recreational use and the list continues to grow. As they say, it’s the elephant in the room.
"Breath testing technology can reduce costs by allowing employers to retain employees and hire candidates who legally use cannabis outside of work"
Some have been debatingthe effects of cannabis for years, but the statistics tell a consistent story.In a recent study, Remedy Review found that from 2015-2019,16 percent of employees were high at work and that 63 percent stated that they consumed cannabis at their lunch or break times – an increase of 60 percent.
The path of impairment is fraught with dangerous consequences especially in safety-sensitive jobs. In just moments, even without the presence of an impairing substance, lives can be changed forever:
• 1 in 5 deaths among workers occurs in the construction industry (OSHA)
• In 2019, a total of 1,061 construction workers died on the job (BLS)
• Each year, 9.7 of every 100,000 construction workers suffer a fatal injury which is the 4th highest rate of any industry (BLS)
• Falls account for 33 percent of all construction deaths (BLS)
• Injury rates in construction are 71 percent higher than injury rate across all industries (NIH)
• Fatal construction injuries are estimated to cost the United States $5 billion each year (Midwest EPI)
• The total annual cost of all construction injuries in the United States is more than $11 billion (NIH)
Of course, cannabis was not the cause of all these injuries and deaths, but increased use among workers during the workday should raise some red flags. That’s because in 2020, according to research by Quest Diagnostics, pre-employment marijuana positivity was 3.7 percent and post-accident was 6.4 percent in the general workforce. For context, in 2012 post-accident cannabis positivity was 2.4 percent --that’s a 73 percent increase since Colorado legalized recreational cannabis. In 2020 positives for marijuana increased from 2.2 percent in 2019 to 2.5 percent in 2020.
Until recently there have been few to no developments in testing equipment, methods, or standards to assist employers in handling the impacts of growing use of cannabis in the workplace. Don’t give up, there is a technology that can help reduce risk, maintain safety, and retain employees and candidates.
First, let’s take a survey of the technological landscape. To date,cannabis testing has utilized several methods, urine, saliva, blood, and hair follicles to determine if cannabis is present in employees’ system. These tests provide positive results for days, weeks, and even months after employees use cannabis – long after impairment subsides. This was more useful when cannabis use was universally illegal and what mattered most was if a worker used cannabis because it was considered by states to be an illicit substance.
As most of us know,the majority ofadults can legally use cannabis, but what many still do not understand is that employers need a better technology that can determine when employees used cannabis becausecannabis impairment doesn’t last for days, weeks, or months. Employers do not want to take adverse employment action based on positive results from oral fluid, urine, and hair tests not only because it is unfair, but also because it increases costs – especially in a tight labor market. Fortunately, technological advancements over the last several years have made it possible to test breath,creating an entirely new category ofdrug testing which is particularly conducive to testing for recent cannabis use.
So, herein lies the intersection of cannabis, technology, and construction. The stats at the beginning of this article underline the safety-sensitive nature of construction.Add to these safety issues, thedangers posed by cannabis use during a shift or on a job site and the statistics could become much grimmerespecially considering that the U.S. Department of Labor reports that drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace causes 65 percent of on-the-job accidents.
Traditionally, construction managers would have relied on oral fluid, urine, and hair to test for cannabis, but they provide positive results long after impairment might cause safety concerns which means the potential for firing highly trained employees or denying employment for a skilled candidate. However, if construction mangers use a cannabis breathalyzer such as the HOUND® MARIJUANA BREATHALYZER, which uses the most advanced breath testing technology, they can continue to test for cannabis to maintain safety, but they will limit positive results to only those employees who used within a few hours of the test and are likely impaired.
The latest developments in ultra-sensitive breath testing technology afford employers additional benefits including automation and ease-of-use. When evaluating new cannabis breathalyzer technology, employers should insist that the solution provides instrument-read results. This means that the technology will process the breath sample and provide negative vs. positive results without requiring the administrator to do any interpretation. Instrument-read technology provides the most objective results and eliminates the potential for bias. Employers should also understand how the technology automates the entire process – from breath collection to analysis. Solutions such as the one offered by Hound Labs, have automated almost every step including miniature pumps to help employees facilitate breath collection to automatically stopping the pumps when a sufficient sample has been collected. Other aspects of automation that are worth verifying: Does the system self-calibrate? Can results be processed on-site within minutes? Will the solution track all results? Does thetechnology automatically ensure there is enough of the sample remaining so a laboratorycan conduct confirmation testing if required by company protocols or union collective bargaining agreements?
Safety remains critical to the construction industry. So, as safety managers, project managers, and foremen research the latest drone, wearable sensor, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence technologies, they should also research the latest breath testing technology.Breath testing technology can reduce costs by allowing employers to retain employees and hire candidates who legally use cannabis outside of work. In addition, by continuing to test for cannabis by focusing on recent use, construction employers benefit from risk mitigation and deterrence. Finally, including a cannabis breathalyzer in drug testing programs balances the need for safety with a fair approach– protecting the growing number of employees and candidates who choose to use to legally and responsibly after work hours. It’s a rare win-win when a technology can bring so much to the table for all stakeholders.