New drug-testing technology targeted at construction industry

Drug use in the construction industry has long been a concern of employers attempting to improve productivity while decreasing the number of accidents and worker compensation claims. A new technology called DrugWipe could help business owners stem employee drug use through proactive monitoring.

Global Detection and Reporting Inc., the manufacturer of DrugWipe, claims its product can instantly detect and identify traces of cocaine, cannabis, heroin, amphetamine and methamphetamines on a surface to a nanogram level. The construction industry is one of the commercial markets to which the company is marketing DrugWipe.

“Most industries have the same problem,” said Roger Dietch, CEO of Global Detection and Reporting. “It’s pretty much the same wherever we go.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports 44 percent of drug users work for small companies. The agency also determined 38 to 50 percent of all workers’ compensation claims are related to substance abuse.

Dietch said many employers are not aware of potential drug problems in their businesses. In addition to increased workers’ compensation claims, drug use can lead to employee theft and decreased productivity. He said DrugWipe, a “sophisticated lab on a stick,” could determine if a problem exists and give employers evidence to stop it.

The product works by testing for the raw drug, so trafficking residue as well as sweat deposited from impaired users can be detected. Patented biosensors embedded in the wand-like device – reagents of the drug itself – are triggered if that drug is found on the surface tested.

“It picks up a lot of things, but the only thing that will trigger is the [drug] reagent,” Dietch said. DrugWipe could potentially be used to detect anything from Anthrax to the SARS virus, he said.

Once the surface has been swabbed with DrugWipe, results are available within two minutes. A positive result is shown by a change of color on an indicator strip – not unlike many home pregnancy tests.

Dietch said the use of DrugWipe after workplace accidents could save contractors money and time. A DrugWipe test is $35, while commonly used urine and blood tests can be as much as $250, and obtaining results may take several days.

Bill Tully, president of BT Electrical Contractors in Freehold, N.J., uses DrugWipe to test company-owned tools and a fleet of 12 trucks for illegal drugs. His company conducts random drug tests three to four times a year.

“If a worker is not doing drugs, then it can be embarrassing when we ask him to take a random urine test,” Tully said. “We essentially are telling employees that we don’t trust them, so our good workers often feel insulted and lose respect for the company.”
By using DrugWipe, Tully said he was able to have reasonable grounds for confronting employees suspected of using drugs to take further tests.

“Before we had DrugWipe, we typically had no reason to test an employee unless an accident occurred,” he said. “Now we can be proactive in preventing drug-related incidents and ensure that our employees are not endangering themselves and others.”

Prescreening, post-accident and suspicion testing are the primary methods for employers to stem drug use in the workplace. Laws, which differ from state-to-state, require that employers have reasonable grounds before drug testing any employee.

“The law is pretty clear when employers can engage in drug testing,” said Lawrence Lorber, a lawyer specializing in labor and employment law at the Proskauer Rose firm in Washington.

Lorber said the DrugWipe product falls outside the law because it tests property and not people.

“There is absolutely no prohibition against it at all,” he said.

Dietch said there has been no legal action resulting from employers’ use of DrugWipe. He said most employees, when confronted with evidence in addition to suspicion, resign on the spot rather than contest the matter.

Global Detection and Reporting’s products were initially used by police units throughout the European Union for seven years, and were introduced to U.S. FBI, DEA and Customs officers three years ago. Dietch said the proven use in these government agencies backs his company’s claims of effective drug detection.

However, there are contractors who don’t believe the DrugWipe product is ethical, or even needed.

Carlos Figueroa, corporate safety director for Cleveland, Ohio-based construction firm Donley’s Inc., said although he hasn’t used DrugWipe, it appears “very invasive” to the workplace.

Figueroa said Donley’s has several drug testing programs in place for its 144 employees, many of whom are unionized. The company follows guidelines in the Construction Industry Substance Abuse Program, backed by the Construction Employees Association and the Mobile Medical Corporation.

Figueroa said the employee union “jumped in with both feet” at approving drug tests in the workplace. He said a product like DrugWipe could be useful in situations of suspicion, but would otherwise raise too many issues of privacy invasion.

Andrea Maclam, association services director of the Associated General Contractors of America Ohio chapter, said she encourages member companies to take a firm stance against drug use in the workplace.

“It’s no secret that drug and alcohol abuse is prevalent in the construction industry,” she said.

Drug testing within the construction industry has been effective at reducing injury, according to a 2000 study by Cornell University titled “An Evaluation of Drug Testing in the Workplace: A study of the construction industry.” More than 400 construction companies were surveyed for the study, which determined the average company instituting a drug test experienced a 51 percent reduction in injury rates within two years.

The Cornell study also revealed an 11.4 percent reduction in workers’ compensation claim rates as a result of the decreased number of workplace accidents.

But Maclam said although drug testing is needed in the construction industry, it must be done with caution. “A company can fall into a precarious situation when they don’t follow the rules with drug testing,” she says.

Patrick Beeson can be contacted at [email protected].