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The Impact of Marijuana Legalization In Construction

3/3/2014 | Construction Blog

A recent issue of ENR raised the prospect of an interesting issue on the horizon for the construction industry: marijuana.

The use of marijuana for recreational purposes has been legalized in Colorado and Washington. With as many as 5 or 6 other states considering similar steps, the issue may be growing into a more pressing one for construction companies to address. This is true of construction firms of all sizes, but those that practice across state lines may now be forced into quicker action.

marijuana-jointThe primary impact in construction is on risk management. Construction is an inherently dangerous activity. Working at heights, using heavy machinery, and working in trenches are but a few of the things that construction workers are confronted with on a day to day basis. These safety hazards require workers to “have their wits about them” and avoid impairment. Marijuana usage impacts this issue directly.

Most scientific studies confirm that it takes very little marijuana to impair a person’s judgment and physical reactions. Moreover, marijuana takes 4-6 weeks to clear a person’s system. This means a worker that smoked marijuana over the weekend 2-3 weeks ago could still be impaired enough to cause an accident on a job site. This, obviously, puts the impaired worker and all of his or her co-workers at risk.

Simply accepting the use of marijuana by employees as a fait accompli is bad policy. It will expose the company, and perhaps individuals, to possible legal liability for accidents when people get hurt. In addition, it remains illegal under federal law and OSHA may not look kindly on impaired workers if a reportable incident occurs. There are also hidden costs like increased insurance rates after accidents occur and the damage that occurs to a company’ public image when it is seen as an unsafe employer.

Despite what seems to be a growing cultural trend towards accepting the use of marijuana for recreational use, construction companies should maintain strict policies against substance abuse that include marijuana, keep legal testing protocols in place, and discourage the use of marijuana. If such policies are not in place, consider implementing them. Finally, keep Colorado and Washington on the radar screen to see how firms on the front lines of this issue are dealing with it.