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O’Rourke expands drug tests to include new staff

Staff and subcontractors wanting to work for Laing O’Rourke in the future will have to take drug and alcohol tests.

It wants to weed out drug and alcohol abusers before they reach site in a bid to boost on-site safety across the company. Anyone failing the tests will be unable to work for the firm.

But it is also being seen as a key part of chairman Ray O’Rourke’s personal pledge to improve the image of construction and make it a better choice of career.

In its last set of accounts, Mr O’Rourke said: “To challenge and change the image of construction means challenging outdated standards and practices and changing perceptions forever.

“We will not tolerate practices that are wasteful, unsafe or otherwise unacceptable.”

The firm’s health and safety director John Green revealed his plans to phase in the testing regime as part of its Injury and Accident Free initiative.

He said: “We want to be able to de-risk the business right from the very beginning.

“What the use of tests demonstrates is that the person working next to you is unlikely to do anything stupid because they are under the influence of either drugs or alcohol.”

Laing O’Rourke began random drug and alcohol tests back in 2005 and, according to the firm’s latest Human Capital Report, it carried out 1,511 tests in 2006 at 131 locations, costing £80,000.

Of those, 114 people tested positive with over two-thirds being caught for cannabis, while a quarter tested positive for cocaine.

All were dismissed or taken off site with 60 per cent of those being subcontracted workers.

The company employs 28,000 people and Mr Green said that newcomers can expect to be hit during their probation periods.

He said: “Initially we will say that everyone who is new to any Laing O’Rourke Group site will be tested at some stage during the first three months. Should anyone fail they will asked to leave the site.”

But he admitted the next step of moving the testing regime to true pre-employment checks will be difficult. He said: “They will probably be introduced as part of a pre-employment medical test that makes sure the employee is fit for work.

“Organising a testing regime would be difficult but construction is a difficult business. Just because something is difficult to do is not a good enough reason not to do it.”

The full interview with John Green will online in a doing the job special report on 14 February

Analysis: Drugs tests miss the vast majority of users

By Tony Buon

Testing is generally ineffective because the only people you catch are the young and the stupid.
There are hundreds of websites that supply products to beat drug tests and it’s very easy to beat drugs tests. Anyone who really wants to can do so 100 per cent of the time.

If testing worked, I wouldn’t be so critical. But if Laing O’Rourke wants to waste money on something that will fail it’s up to them.

I have worked with building companies here and back in Australia and, let’s be clear, alcohol is the major drug in the building trade.

It would be interesting to find out what drugs Laing is testing for. My guess would be cannabis, cocaine, heroin and ecstasy but there are others out there.

But it is alcohol that is the biggest cause of accidents, death and lost productivity.

A breathalyser is much better because it’s very hard to beat and that sort of thing is supported by workers.

A pre-emptive medical is a start but employers need to refer problem cases to employee assistance programmes and this only works with good management.

Tony Buon is an expert on workplace drug and alcohol use and has consulted with the World Health Organisation and International Labour Organisation