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Building site in Manchester

In an Industry that has a drug problem; building contractors fear further relaxing of Cannabis laws will endanger workers on UK sites.

  • New Cannabis laws are causing concern in the building industry as alcohol and drug cases are on the rise
  • Industry indsiders are calling for more on-site drug testing 

Potential relaxation of cannabis laws have caused concern in the building industry in Manchester.

Sean Walsh, a building contractor with 20 years’ experience in construction, has been conducting random drug tests. 

With safety on site paramount, he has no choice. Not everyone will be tested but he knows some people will come out as positive. 

“We do random tests every month,” he said. 

“And I would say every two or three months someone tests positive. We don’t involve the police but they are gone, on the spot.”

With some police forces in effect decriminalising cannabis, the Royal College of Psychiatrists reviewing its opposition to its legalisation and Lib Dem MP Norman Lamb, calling for “a regulated cannabis market”, the construction industry, among others, is concerned. 

Sean, who has worked with Carillion and the Highways department, knows the building trade has a problem but feels it is an unhelpful message.

“It’s something we really don’t need. It’s bad enough as it is now without adding to a sense of immunity from prosecution and for some immunity from responsibility.”

A survey in 2016 carried out by non-profit-making Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS)-survey (29 June 2016)- found six out of 10 people questioned across the building trade were concerned about the harm being caused by widespread alcohol and drug use, especially cannabis, in one of the UK’s most demanding health and safety working environments.

Sean reluctantly acknowledges problems often come with the workers they attract.

He said: “How do I put this delicately? The Building trade attracts a certain type of person, often at the end of the scale. Usually unqualified and they are sometimes the kind of person who will roll a spliff in their van at lunch time and come back to work in the afternoon.” 

“We also have a suggestion box where people can drop in an anonymous note in if they think that someone has been smoking cannabis on site or during a brew time.”

Adrian (not his real name), 46, a joiner for 17 years, said: “I won’t go on a site that has people smoking weed. It’s too dangerous. They could be using gear that needs total concentration. Sloppy handling from being stoned causes terrible accidents and even death.”

Tower construction Mcr
Tower construction site in Manchester

Mandatory testing is not in place at all building sites and yet one director of health and safety at a major contractor, who wishes to remain anonymous, says 10 per cent of the drug tests the company conducts are positive for cannabis.

He added that these tests are usually targeted to catch workers suspected of being under the influence.

This echoes concerns in Canada where the legalisation of cannabis has seen many building contractors asking for obligatory on-site testing. So far the plan has been knocked back because by law in Canada employees are entitled to a certain degree of privacy, even in the context of their workplace.

Sean would like to see the industry take on a more stringent approach familiar with working on the roads and motorways. 

“The Highways department is different and is very strict and they will test you before you can work for them.” He said.

“I had a lad who came up to me and said I’m not doing the test because I know I’ll fail. I had to let him go right there.”

A spokesman for the CCS, Jack Endean, said no new campaign on drugs and alcohol in construction was due thus no new survey would be carried out in the foreseeable future. 

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