Construction apprentices’ attitudes to workplace
drug testing in Ireland
Victoria Hogan BA MSc CMIOSH, National University of Ireland, Galway,
Roseanne Cannon BSc MSc Grad IOSH, Dublin Institute of Technology, and
Saoirse Nic Gabhainn BA MA PhD, National University of Ireland, Galway
Ireland has become one of the first European countries to legislate for workplace drug testing.
However, little is known about the attitudes of Irish workers towards various aspects of
workplace drug testing programmes. This paper aims to address this matter by presenting the
findings of a survey of construction apprentices and their attitudes to workplace drug testing.
The results indicate that under some circumstances there is approval for tests; testing with
advance warning is preferred to random testing. In addition, the practice of workplace drug
testing in a company would not deter most respondents from applying for a position there.
However, attitudes towards most aspects of drug testing – such as the need for random testing,
the right of employers to test for drugs, and infringement of personal rights – are characterised
by extreme variability. Higher self-reported frequency of alcohol and drug use, particularly of
cannabis, was associated with more negative reactions towards workplace drug testing. The
implications of implementing workplace drug testing programmes are discussed.
Apprentices, attitudes, construction sector, Ireland, legislation, workplace drug testing
Ireland’s health and safety legislation was significantly altered by the introduction of the
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005. This Act replaced the 1989 Safety, Health and
Welfare at Work Act, which was the foundation stone of health and safety legislation in
Ireland. The 2005 Act contained numerous new requirements and has closed many of the legal
‘grey areas’ that had existed since 1989.
One of the most controversial new additions to the 2005 Act was the introduction into Irish
law of a provision for workplace drug testing programmes (WDTPs). The Act defines
intoxicants as both drugs and alcohol, and stipulates that employees must not be under the
influence of an intoxicant in the workplace to such an extent that it may endanger the
health and safety of any other person. Employers may test employees for substance use, and
in some safety-critical industries, this testing may become mandatory. Follow-on regulations
and codes of practice (which will outline the exact requirements) are in the draft stage, and
are expected to go to public consultation before being brought into law. Therefore, at this
point, Ireland has become one of the first countries in the European Union (EU) to legislate
In light of this new legislation and because little is known concerning the attitudes of Irish
workers towards drug testing programmes, research was required to determine what
Policy and Practice in Health andSafety
© IOSH Services Limited
workers think about WDTPs. The only data available at the time of this study on the
attitudes of Irish people to workplace drug testing (WDT) come from a European study
conducted by Bjorklov et al.1, which compares pre-employment samples in Ireland, Sweden
and Portugal. This study, presented in 2000, reported that 98 per cent of the Irish workers
sampled agreed that drug testing can be a good method to achieve a drug-free workplace
and they generally agreed that employers should be entitled to test for drugs, especially
when they suspected drug use was taking place.
Employees in the construction industry were targeted for the current study for two reasons.
The construction industry in Ireland is a major employer, accounting for approximately 12 per
cent of total employment nationally,2and it is also viewed as one of the most hazardous
industries for Irish employees, with approximately 30 per cent of all work-related fatalities in
Ireland between 2000 and 2005 occurring in this sector.3
Data on the levels of alcohol and drug consumption in the Irish construction sector are sparse;
however, the US Department of Health and Human Services reports that the construction
industry has a higher percentage of illicit drug and alcohol users than any other occupational
category.4Given the potential for high levels of intoxicant use and the safety-critical nature of
the industry, the implementation of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 will no
doubt have a significant effect on the attitudes of construction workers to WDT.
Alcohol and drug use in Ireland
Alcohol is the Irish nation’s most used drug. With a 41 per cent increase in per capita
consumption, albeit from a low base, Ireland had the highest increase in alcohol consumption
among EU countries between 1989 and 1999. In 2000, Ireland’s alcohol consumption
continued to increase and by 2002 ranked second after Luxembourg.5The National Health
and Lifestyles Survey6revealed that 30 per cent of males and 22 per cent of females consumed
more than the recommended weekly limits for alcohol.
Levels of illicit drug use in Ireland are also increasing. The European Monitoring Centre for
Drugs and Drug Addiction estimates that one in five Irish adults has used an illicit drug.7Use
of illicit substances is highest among young adults (15–34 years) and, in all age groups, men
are more likely to have used drugs than women.6
Alcohol and drug use in the workplace
Alcohol-related problems are more common in the workplace than drug-related problems.8
Irish employers are of the opinion that absenteeism is the chief manifestation of alcohol abuse
in the workplace.9A number of studies have shown a relationship between substance abuse
and workplace absenteeism, including Mangione et al.,10 Bass et al.11 and Normand et al.12
Evidence is also available which suggests a negative relationship between concurrent drug and
alcohol use and work performance,12–14 and that substance misuse is associated with higher
levels of workplace accidents and injuries.15–17
Workplace drug testing
Generally, not much is known about WDT in Europe; it is difficult to obtain reliable
information and only minimal statistics are available.18 The evidence that is available from the
literature tells us that large organisations are more likely to test employees and/or job
applicants than smaller organisations, and that testing appears to be more likely in jobs that
involve high levels of perceived risk to the public than in positions where the hazards
associated with drug-impaired performance are minimal.19 Verstraete & Pierce18 reported that
86 Hogan, Cannon & Nic Gabhainn
testing for drugs in Ireland is mainly performed on white-collar workers and that programmes
that test for alcohol use are less prevalent than those that test for drug use.
For organisations, there are a number of potential benefits of understanding the attitudes of
employees towards their work in general. For example, attitudes may influence action, so
employers can use their knowledge to generate more positive job attitudes and actions. An
understanding of the attitudes of employees to WDT is therefore important and can give a
valuable insight into the organisation. Reid et al.19 argue that WDT may lead to a more
positive view of the organisation among employees, especially if it appears to improve safety
and efficiency. On the other hand, Konovsky & Cropanzano20 found that managers are
particularly concerned that negative employee responses to WDT may have adverse affects on
the functioning of the organisation. Attitudinal information can be used by employers to help
the design of policies and programmes that gain respect and approval from all levels of the
organisation. It can also be useful for organisations in designing and implementing effective
prevention, intervention and rehabilitation services for employees.
A sizeable amount of research has focused on attitudes towards WDT. However, much of this
research was conducted in the US from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s; some of the earlier
research is therefore likely to be out of date, and it is not known to what extent any of it is
representative of other countries. There are also other reasons to doubt whether the findings of
this research can be generalised to a workforce as a whole. For example, the majority of these
studies used student populations and hypothetical scenarios, and are thus of unknown validity.
Research regarding attitudes towards WDT needs to assess the attitudes of those currently in
employment. Much of the earlier research suggests a general negative attitude towards WDT.
Organisational variables such as type of work (safety sensitive versus non-safety sensitive),
type of screening (job applicant versus current employee) and amount of warning given
(advance warning versus no warning) may have an impact on an individual’s responses to
WDTPs.21,22 Murphy et al.23 reported that, among college students, tests that detect alcohol
were viewed less favourably than tests for other combinations of drugs. The same study found
that tests met higher levels of approval if the results were confidential.
Not surprisingly, research has indicated that random testing (ie without warning) was
perceived among a small sample of blue-collar workers to be less fair than testing after
advance notice.22 Murphy et al. showed that in a sample of college students, attitudes were less
favourable towards random testing than towards testing with due cause.23 Testing with
advance notice may be perceived as fairer than random testing because it allows individuals
more control over the collection of personal information.
As might be expected, the data also suggest that company policy towards positive drugs tests
(eg job termination versus rehabilitation) can have an impact on employees’ attitudes.20–22
Policies that provided rehabilitation were viewed as far more favourable than policies that
involved immediate termination of employment.22–24
Crant & Bateman have reported that the perceived need for WDT also influences attitudes.21
The perceived need is likely to depend on the safety sensitivity of the job – in other words, the
extent to which the job presents a high degree of danger for workers or third parties. Indeed,
Arthur & Doverspike list ‘job safety sensitivity’ as a factor in reactions to drug testing.25 A
study of college students found that the perceived danger of the work was the best predictor of
Construction apprentices’ attitudes to workplace drug testing in Ireland 87
acceptance of drug testing.23 The extant literature suggests that attitudes towards drug testing
are more positive when safety is a major concern.23,26
In addition, drug testing in safety-sensitive jobs was seen to be less of a violation of privacy
than in non-safety-sensitive jobs. In jobs where safety is a major concern, random testing
without warning and immediate termination of employment after a positive test may be
perceived as fairer than in jobs where safety is not an issue.24Tepper27found that safety
sensitivity was positively related to the perceived fairness of the consequences for positive drug
tests. In other words, more punitive procedures were viewed as fairer when impaired work
performance was perceived to be dangerous to the employee and/or his/her co-workers.
This study addresses the need for more information and a clearer understanding of the effects of
WDTPs on the attitudes of Irish construction sector employees. The overall aims of the study were:
• to investigate levels of alcohol and drug consumption
• to ascertain attitudes to certain aspects of WDT, particularly towards:
••random drug testing
••the accuracy of drug tests
••the rights of employers versus the privacy rights of employees
••the perceived need for WDT
••the effectiveness of WDT as a deterrent to drug use
••the potential consequences of a positive drug test
• to investigate the extent to which attitudes vary among workers according to demographic
profiles, illegal drug use, alcohol use and perceived safety-sensitivity of the person’s job.
The survey population consisted of craft/construction trade apprentices based at a training
centre for a 20-week period as part of their apprenticeship. All the apprentices at the training
centre were surveyed in order to maximise the power of the study. At the time of data
collection, 168 apprentices were enrolled at the training centre.
A cross-sectional questionnaire survey was used to explore employees’ attitudes towards drug
testing in the workplace. The design process followed the steps outlined by Frazer,28 and
included consideration of the psychometric properties of the individual items, structure and
flow of questions, sensitivity and possible biases, as well as wording and length both of
individual questions and the total questionnaire.
Each item was chosen for its ability to meet certain criteria, including its appropriateness for
the target sample, its use of language, its documented reliability and validity, and its relevance
to the study objectives. Therefore many items were drawn from previous relevant surveys.
Twenty-eight of the 30 questions employed in this survey were adapted from questionnaires
used in previous studies in the area.6,21–24,29–34
Following piloting, the final questionnaire contained 30 items. Each section consisted of
questions using both close-ended and scaled response formats. The close-ended questions were
either dichotomous or multichotomous. The scaled response questions used a five-point Likert
scale (where 1 = ‘strongly disagree’ and 5 = ‘strongly agree’). The questions were put into
groups relating to the same topic, and the questionnaire was divided into three main sections:
88 Hogan, Cannon & Nic Gabhainn
• attitudinal questions relating to WDT (eg ‘I would agree to be randomly tested for drugs by
my employer’, ‘Drug testing is an infringement of personal rights’, ‘I would not apply for a
job at an organisation that tests for drug use’)
•behavioural questions relating to lifestyles, habits and intentions (eg ‘On how many
occasions (if any) have you used marijuana (grass, pot) or cannabis (hash, hash oil)?’, ‘How
long ago did you last have an alcoholic drink?’)
• demographic questions (eg ‘What age are you?’, ‘What is your job title?’).
Participants were assembled in groups of approximately 14 in classrooms, where the nature
and purpose of the study was explained. Confidentiality and anonymity were guaranteed and
participation was voluntary. Participants were encouraged to sit as far from each other as the
available space allowed. The questionnaires were given out, completed by participants during
the group sessions, and then returned to the researcher. No conferring was permitted, and
participants were encouraged to raise their hands if there were any difficulties with the
All questionnaires were coded and the data analysed using SPSS (Version 12.0). As the primary
outcome measures – attitudes to WDT – were assessed ordinally, with five-point Likert-type
scales, all inferential analyses employed non-parametric tests of significance: Mann-Whitney U
tests for exploring the differences between groups, and Spearman’s Rho Correlation Co-
efficients for investigating the associations between variables.
One hundred and forty-eight apprentices (88 per cent) participated in the study, and 140
useable questionnaires were obtained, giving an overall response rate of 83 per cent. The
entire survey sample was male, with the vast majority (87 per cent) in the 18–34 age group.
The sample was largely made up of apprentice carpenters (n = 48), followed by electricians
(n = 38) and plumbers (n = 20). Other craft trades included in the sample were blocklayers
(n = 13), fitters (n = 11) and mechanics (n = 10). The majority of respondents (62 per cent)
were employed by small organisations (1–10 employees), with 29 per cent employed by
medium organisations (11–50 employees) and a small number employed in larger
organisations (more than 50 employees). Given the socio-demographic homogeneity of the
sample, it was not possible to investigate differences in responses by age or gender.
A minority of respondents reported that their employer had a policy on alcohol (20.1 per cent)
and other drugs (17.1 per cent). Only 2 per cent of respondents reported having access to an
employee assistance programme or counselling at work. No respondents reported the presence
of a drug-testing programme in their current workplace; however, 18 per cent of respondents
reported that they did not know whether there was one. Only two respondents (1.4 per cent)
had ever been tested by an employer in the past. In total, 71 per cent of respondents felt that
the extent of alcohol abuse among construction workers in general was a fairly serious or a
very serious problem. In contrast, only 19.3 per cent agreed that alcohol abuse is a major
problem in their own workplace.
Alcohol and drug consumption
Respondents were asked how recently they had last consumed alcohol; 92 per cent reported
that they had drunk alcohol in the month before the survey, with 16 per cent drinking five or
six times a week and on each of these occasions consuming more than six drinks. Current
Construction apprentices’ attitudes to workplace drug testing in Ireland 89
cannabis use was reported by 40 per cent of apprentices, while approximately 44 per cent
reported never having used cannabis. After cannabis, the most commonly used drugs were
ecstasy (23 per cent) followed by amphetamines (17 per cent) and magic mushrooms (13 per
Table 1 presents the reported work-related problems resulting from the respondents’ own
drinking and drug use in the last 12 months, for all respondents and thus represent
percentages for the total survey population. The top three work-related problems resulting
from a respondent’s own drinking were:
• feeling hung over at work
• feeling tired at work
• arriving late at work or leaving early.
In contrast to the findings on alcohol use, the vast majority did not experience any work-
related problems as a result of their own drug use.
Attitudes towards WDT
Table 2 shows the attitudes of the respondents towards certain aspects of WDTPs. A total of
45.7 per cent agree somewhat to strongly that WDT acts as an effective deterrent to employee
drug use; however, 41.4 per cent disagree somewhat to strongly with this statement. Also, a
slight majority of respondents – 52.9 per cent – agreed that WDT is an infringement of
personal rights, with 14.3 per cent unsure and 32.8 per cent disagreeing. When asked whether
companies should have the right to test employees for drugs, 41.7 per cent of respondents
agreed to some extent, but 46 per cent disagreed to some extent.
Slightly more (19.3 per cent) respondents reported that they strongly disagreed with being
randomly tested for alcohol compared to those reporting strong agreement (16.4 per cent). But
in general, levels of agreement and disagreement in relation to random alcohol testing were
very similar. The levels of approval (45.7 per cent) and disapproval (43.5 per cent) for random
drug testing were also similar. However, a higher proportion agreed with random testing for
drugs (45.7 per cent) than alcohol (40.7 per cent). A clear difference in attitudes towards
WDT was noted when advance notice of the test was given – in this case 58.6 per cent
approved of being tested, compared to 30.7 per cent who disapproved. The results presented
in Table 2 indicate that workplace drug testing in an organisation would not have a negative
effect on the majority of respondents’ intentions to apply to work there.
A minority (15 per cent) of respondents were not concerned about the accuracy of drugs
tests used by organisations, 25 per cent were concerned to some extent, while the majority
(60 per cent) were not sure. When asked about the perceived need in their jobs for different
types of drug testing, most respondents indicated a need for post-accident testing only (79
per cent), even though the majority of respondents did class their work as ‘safety-critical’
(64 per cent). Respondents were asked to indicate reasons why they think employers test
employees for drugs and alcohol. The main reason given was workplace safety (85.7 per
cent), followed by company image (38.6 per cent). Only 14.3 per cent of respondents felt
that employers test their workers in order to control them and prevent them from taking
alcohol and drugs.
Table 3 shows the attitudes of respondents towards the consequences of failing a drug or
alcohol test. In relation to testing positive for alcohol, a small minority of respondents (15 per
90 Hogan, Cannon & Nic Gabhainn
cent) felt it would be fair for their workmate to be dismissed. In contrast, the level of approval
for dismissal when a workmate tested positive for drugs was higher, at 41.4 per cent.
The vast majority of respondents fell into the 18–34 age category, the entire population was
male, and there were small numbers in some occupational categories. Therefore, it was not
possible to explore statistical differences in attitudes towards WDT by these socio-
demographic attributes. The results presented here are of an investigation into how attitudes
vary by substance use characteristics; differences among respondents according to frequency of
alcohol and drug consumption were explored with Mann-Whitney U tests.
Construction apprentices’ attitudes to workplace drug testing in Ireland 91
Have you experienced any of the following as a result of
your own alcohol or drug use?
Felt hung over at work 82.1 6.4
Felt tired at work 70.7 10.0
Arrived late for work or left early 62.9 9.3
Performed poorly at work 51.4 6.4
Missed days from work 45.7 2.9
Felt drunk or under the influence of drugs at work 40.0 2.9
Argued with co-workers 14.3 5.0
Been injured or had an accident at work 4.3 3.6
Drug testing is an effective deterrent
to drug use by employees 10.0 35.7 12.9 29.3 12.1
Drug testing infringes employees’
personal rights 23.6 29.3 14.3 20.7 12.1
I support a company’s right to test
employees for drugs 5.8 35.9 12.2 23.0 23.0
I support random testing for alcohol 16.4 24.3 15.7 24.3 19.3
I support random testing for drugs 19.3 26.4 10.7 16.4 27.1
I support workplace drug testing
when advance notice is given 18.6 40.0 10.7 14.3 16.4
I do not intend to apply for jobs with
organisations that test for drug use 11.4 13.6 19.3 22.1 33.6
Table 4 shows that significant differences were found between those reporting frequent
cannabis use and their perceived need for pre-employment and random testing. There were
significant relationships between the perceived need for random testing and both recency of
last alcoholic drink (p = 0.001) and frequency of binge drinking (p = 0.036). In both cases,
participants reporting more recent substance use were less likely to agree that there was a need
for random testing.
Spearman’s Rho was used to test for association between frequency of alcohol and other drug
use and attitudes towards WDT, and a number of these associations were found to be
statistically significant and of low to moderate strength. Table 5 shows that statistically
significant correlations were found between more recent alcohol use and both attitudes
towards drug testing as an infringement of privacy and concern about the accuracy of drug
tests. Frequency of binge drinking was associated with agreement to be randomly tested for
drugs; agreement to be tested for alcohol and drugs when advance notice is given; and support
for a company’s right to test employees. As frequency of binge drinking increased, it was
found that agreement with testing decreased, as did positive attitudes towards testing. There
was also an association between frequency of binge drinking and intention to apply for a job
at an organisation that tests for drugs; this suggests that frequent alcohol use does not affect
respondents’ intentions to apply to an organisation that tests its employees for drugs. Frequent
binge drinkers were less likely to perceive drug testing as an infringement of their personal
92 Hogan, Cannon & Nic Gabhainn
If your workmate fails a drug or alcohol
test at work, do you think it is fair for...
Positive test for
Positive test for
him/her to be sacked? 15.0 41.4
him/her to be referred to a doctor? 21.4 33.6
him/her to be sent for counselling? 22.1 32.9
him/her to be disciplined? 37.1 30.7
your employer to put up a poster about
substance abuse? 20.0 25.0
for failing a drug
or alcohol test
cannabis use and
for types of WDT
Yes No P Yes No P Yes No P
Lifetime cannabis use –
(1.8) 0.042 2.48
(1.9) ns 1.74
Cannabis use in last 12
months – Mean (SD)
(1.7) 0.027 2.22
(1.8) ns 1.25
Cannabis use in last 30 days
– Mean (SD)
(1.7) 0.007 2.00
(1.9) ns 1.00
1 = Never; 2 = 1–2 times; 3 = 3–5 times; 4 = 6–9 times; 5 = 10+ times
Table 6 reveals significant correlations, in the low to moderate range, between self-reported
illicit drug use and attitudes to WDT. Significant negative associations were identified between
frequencies of cannabis use at all levels (lifetime, last 12 months and last 30 days) and
agreement to be randomly tested for drugs. Frequent users of cannabis were also less likely to
agree to being tested for both drugs and alcohol even if their employer gave them advance
notice of the test. Agreement that drug testing is an infringement of personal rights was
positively associated with frequency of cannabis use at all levels and frequent users were
significantly less likely to agree with a company’s right to test employees for drugs.
Frequency of use of amphetamines, ecstasy and solvents in the last 12 months were
significantly negatively associated with agreement to be randomly tested and tested if advance
notice was given. Frequent users of amphetamines and ecstasy were more likely to view drug
testing as an invasion of privacy and were more likely to report negative intentions to apply
for a job at an organisation that tests for drugs. Significant negative associations were found
between frequency of amphetamine and ecstasy use and attitudes towards a company’s right to
test employees for drugs, and the effectiveness of WDT as a deterrent to employee drug use.
Discussion and conclusions
The levels of alcohol and illicit drug consumption reported in the present study are much higher
than national figures for regular binge drinking and cannabis and ecstasy use. This high level of
intoxicant use is consistent with previous research in the construction sector, which has been
identified by Mandell et al.35 as an industry with particular risk of substance abuse. A possible
normalisation of substance use and misuse among workers in this industry is of particular
Construction apprentices’ attitudes to workplace drug testing in Ireland 93
I would object to being randomly tested for alcohol by my
employer 0.021 0.068
I would agree to be randomly tested for drugs by my
employer 0.078 0.260†
I would agree to be tested for both alcohol and drugs if my
employer gave me notice 0.136 0.211*
I would not apply for a job at an organisation that tests
for drugs –0.042 –0.182*
Drug testing is an infringement of personal rights –0.200*–0.319†
Companies should have the right to test their employees for
alcohol and drugs 0.157 0.293†
I am concerned about the accuracy of drug tests used by
Workplace drug testing is an effective deterrent to drug use 0.017 0.062
* Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level
† Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level
94 Hogan, Cannon & Nic Gabhainn
* Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level
† Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level
and frequency of
illicit drug use
in last 12
in last 30 days
use in last 12
ecstasy use in
last 12 months
solvent use in
last 12 months
I would object to being randomly tested for
alcohol by my employer 0.074 0.074 0.095 0.091 0.135 0.044
I would agree to be randomly tested for
drugs by my employer –0.301
I would agree to be tested for both alcohol
and drugs if my employer gave me notice –0.275
I would not apply for a job at an organisation
that tests for drugs 0.130 0.182 0.198*0.172*0.201* 0.041
Drug testing is an infringement of personal
Companies should have the right to test their
employees for alcohol and drugs –0.189*–0.280
I am concerned about the accuracy of drug
tests used by employers 0.064 –0.023 –0.094 –0.230
Workplace drug testing is an
effective deterrent to drug use –0.212* –0.169 –0.148 –0.196*–0.190* –0.130
interest when developing appropriate responses, in that there may be a greater need for industry-
specific recommendations when such differences in behaviour have been documented.
Consistent with the high rates of substance misuse reported, the data show that the majority
of respondents experienced several substance use-related problems in the 12 months before the
survey. Of particular concern is that 40 per cent of respondents reported feeling drunk at work
in the last year and 82 per cent reported feeling hung over from the previous night’s drinking.
Almost 46 per cent missed days from work as a result of their drinking. This is likely to
represent a considerable loss to industry through underperformance, and underlines the
necessity of addressing these issues. Although only 4.6 per cent (n = 6) and 3.6 per cent (n = 5)
reported having an accident at work due to their own alcohol and drug use respectively, if
these percentages were applicable to the total number of apprentices in the country, the results
would be of major importance. For example, in 2002, there were approximately 24,000
registered apprentices in Ireland.36 If 4 per cent (n = 960) of all apprentices reported an alcohol
or drug-related accident at work, there would be huge health and safety implications for the
industry. Overall, fewer respondents reported drug-related problems at work, which supports
international findings that suggest that drug-related problems are less common in the
workplace than alcohol-related ones.37
The very low levels of reported drug testing and the lack of knowledge about employers’
policies may be explained by the fact that this is a new generation of workers with little
workplace experience. The low levels may also be attributed to the high proportion of small
employers – a common feature in the construction industry and indeed in Ireland as a whole.
Construction apprentices’ attitudes towards most aspects of WDT programmes were
characterised by extreme variability. Virtually all statements on drug testing were accepted by
a large number of respondents and were rejected by a comparable number of respondents,
and this is supportive of similarly diverse data reported by Murphy et al.23 It may be relevant
that these views are held in the absence of direct experience of drug testing, as Hurley
reported that employees who had undergone drug testing reported significantly more negative
attitudes than those who had not.29 Thus attitudes may become more negative over time as
these apprentices gain experience and as workplace drug testing becomes more commonplace
within the sector.
Frequent and high-volume users of alcohol and drugs did report more negative attitudes
towards certain aspects of workplace drug testing. However, the documented relationships are
at best moderate in strength. It may be that substance users have a lower tolerance for social
control in general terms, which is expressed in this case as a more negative attitude to WDT.
Nevertheless, other factors are contributing significantly to the attitudes being expressed, and
in the absence of significant workplace history, direct experience of being tested or even
working in an environment where testing is conducted, it is unclear what these factors might
be. Thus, there remains a gap in our knowledge about the precursors of these attitudes, which
deserves further attention.
The considerably greater tolerance towards alcohol consumption and associated problems, as
well as lower support for punitive measures against workers found to be misusing alcohol, are
both internally consistent and in contrast with the views expressed in relation to illicit drug
use. The expressed differences in attitude towards alcohol and drugs may reflect the legality of
alcohol in comparison to the illegality of drugs, or indeed may mirror broader societal views
Construction apprentices’ attitudes to workplace drug testing in Ireland 95
about the acceptability of consuming these substances. Both of these suggest that the
challenges for employers in relation to alcohol use and alcohol-related problems in the
workplace will be substantial, and may well require considerably more liaison with employees
and community leaders than might otherwise be anticipated.
While many respondents are concerned about intrusions into their personal lives, a significant
number support companies’ right to test for drugs. This, in turn, suggests awareness among
some respondents of the needs and reasons for implementing drug testing. However, even if an
employer were to design a testing programme based on elements that are viewed more
favourably, a substantial proportion of employees would still be likely to hold a strong
negative view towards some aspects of the programme. Although negative attitudes are more
likely among frequent than infrequent users of alcohol and drugs, organisations cannot ignore
individuals whose attitudes towards WDT are negative. Organisations choosing to adopt drug-
testing procedures are faced with several difficult issues. These include deciding who should be
tested, how and when they should be tested, and the consequences of a positive drug test.
Attitudes towards testing under a variety of circumstances suggest that certainty about when a
test will be conducted is related to more favourable reactions. For example, the majority of
respondents indicated agreement to be tested for both alcohol and drugs if their employer gave
them advance warning of the tests. Asked about the perceived need for different types of drug
testing in their own workplaces, respondents indicated a need for post-accident testing only.
Levels of disapproval for pre-employment and random testing were high. Attitudes were more
negative when there was no obvious justification for testing, which suggests that testing
everyone (ie random testing) may be viewed in a more negative light. It may be that substance-
using employees believe that, given advance notice, they would be able to ensure that they
would not fail a planned drug test, and this is supported by stronger relationships on this
point for binge drinkers in comparison to illicit substance users. Given the media coverage of
the slow rate of metabolism of cannabis in comparison, for example, to alcohol, illicit
substance users probably know that they are likely to test positive in a random test, and that
they are less likely to be able to prepare successfully for a notified test.
Previous research has reported that rehabilitation is perceived as a fairer consequence of
failing a drug test than stricter penalties such as termination of employment, and the data
presented here support this in relation to alcohol. However, in the case of a positive test for
drugs, termination was the possible consequence that was most frequently agreed with. In
addition, respondents were more likely to agree that referral to a doctor or a counsellor was
fair following a failed drug test than after a failed alcohol test; this suggests that drug abuse is
viewed more as a ‘problem’ warranting professional help than alcohol abuse.
In relation to the attraction and retention of employees, the stance taken towards testing may
depend on the safety-critical nature of the work itself. These data suggest that current
cannabis users and frequent binge drinkers are significantly less attracted to an organisation
that tests for drug use and are more likely to view testing as an infringement of their rights.
Thus a well-publicised WDTP may result in fewer substance-using job applicants and
employees. On the other hand, given the apparent acceptance of substance use, especially
alcohol misuse among young working-class men, a comprehensive WDTP may create more
difficulties in terms of recruitment than it solves in relation to safety.
The findings of the present study are likely to become relevant for an increasing number of
Irish workers who will be tested for drug and alcohol use, and highlight the importance of
96 Hogan, Cannon & Nic Gabhainn
conducting more extensive research into the effects of drug testing programmes. Further
research is required to assess to what extent the results presented here can be generalised,
and there are unanswered questions in relation particularly to the predictors of negative
attitudes to WDT. However, the results may provide some initial guidance in designing drug-
testing programmes and in anticipating and dealing with the reactions and attitudes of
Organisations that intend to implement WDT should adopt a holistic approach to the issue of
drugs and alcohol usage by their workforce. An integrated drug/alcohol policy can provide the
necessary framework through which to address the issue. Given the high levels of alcohol and
drug use among the construction apprentices in this study, such an integrated policy should
aim to increase awareness of and foster positive attitudes towards health and safety risks, and
to establish effective prevention, problem management and rehabilitation programmes specific
to the needs of the industry and the characteristics of its employees. As part of policy
development and roll-out, WDT must have other programmes to support it, such as
communications that heighten employees’ awareness of substance abuse and the testing
programme, and some form of counselling or rehabilitation service for those employees with
substance abuse problems. It is recommended that such a policy be developed in conjunction
with experienced health service providers (such as occupational health services, addiction
services, primary care) and representative employee groups. This is likely to maximise the
acceptability of the policy and help to integrate it into public and private services – an
important factor for smaller employers, such as those in construction, with lower levels of
access to employee assistance programmes.
1. Bjorklov P, Pinherio J & Pierce A. Comparison of attitudes towards being drug tested
between employees in Ireland, Portugal and Sweden. Presentation given at the Second
European Symposium on Workplace Drug Testing, Rimini, 2000.
2. Construction Industry Federation. Construction industry overview. www.cif.ie/asp/
section.asp?s=19 (viewed 10 November 2006).
3. Health and Safety Authority. Fatality statistics. www.hsa.ie/publisher/index.jsp?1nID=
105&pID=446&nID=465#1 (viewed 10 November 2006).
4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Worker drug use and
workplace policies and programs: results from the 1994 and 1997 National Household
Surveys on Drug Abuse. www.oas.samhsa.gov/NHSDA/A-11/TOC.htm (viewed
10 November 2006).
5. Department of Health and Children. Strategic Task Force on Alcohol: interim report.
Dublin: Government Publications, 2002.
6. Friel S, Nic Gabhainn S & Kelleher C. The National Health and Lifestyles Survey
(SLAN, HBSC). Dublin: Department of Health and Children, 2003.
7. European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. Annual report on the state
of the drugs problem in the European Union and Norway. Lisbon: EMCDDA, 2003.
8. International Labour Organization. Drug and alcohol abuse prevention. www.ilo.org/
public/english/protection/safework/drug/index.htm, viewed 10 November 2006.
9. O’Connor J & Keenaghan C. Alcohol and drugs in the workplace: attitudes, policies and
programmes in Ireland. Country report for the International Labour Office in
collaboration with the Commission of the European Community. ILO, 1993.
10. Mangione T W, Howland J, Amick B, Cote J, Lee M, Bell N & Levine S. Employee
drinking practices and work performance. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 1999; 60 (2):
Hogan, Cannon & Nic Gabhainn 97
11. Bass A R, Bharucha-Reid R, Delaplane-Harris K, Schork M A, Kaufmann R, McCann D,
Foxman B, Fraser W & Cook S. Employee drug use, demographic characteristics, work
reactions and absenteeism. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology 1996; 1 (1):
12. Normand J, Salyards S D & Mahoney J J. An evaluation of pre-employment drug
testing. Journal of Applied Psychology 1990; 75 (6): 629–639.
13. Lehman W E K & Simpson D D. Employee substance use and on-the-job behaviours.
Journal of Applied Psychology 1992; 77 (3): 309–321.
14. Ames G, Grube J W & Moore R S. The relationship of drinking and hangovers to
workplace problems: an empirical study. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 1997; 58 (1):
15. Kaestner R & Grossman M. The effect of drug use on workplace accidents. Labour
Economics 1998; 5 (3): 267–294.
16. MacDonald S, Wells S & Lothian S. Comparison of lifestyle and substance use factors
related to accidental injuries at work, home and recreational events. Accident Analysis
and Prevention 1998; 30 (1): 21–27.
17. Wells S & MacDonald S. The relationship between alcohol consumption patterns and
car, work, sports and home accidents for different age groups. Accident Analysis and
Prevention 1999; 31 (1): 663–665.
18. Verstraete A G & Pierce A. Workplace drug testing in Europe. Forensic Science
International 2001; 121 (1–2): 2–6.
19. Reid L D, Murphy K R & Reynolds D H. Drug abuse and drug testing in the workplace.
In: Murphy K R & Saal F E (eds). Psychology in organizations: integrating science and
practice. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc., 1990.
20. Konovsky M A & Cropanzano R. Perceived fairness of employee drug testing as a
predictor of employee attitudes and job performance. Journal of Applied Psychology
1991; 76 (5): 698–707.
21. Crant J M & Bateman T S. An experimental test of the impact of drug-testing programs
on potential job applicants’ attitudes and intentions. Journal of Applied Psychology
1990; 75 (2): 127–131.
22. Stone D L & Kotch D A. Individuals’ attitudes toward organizational drug testing
policies and practices. Journal of Applied Psychology 1989; 74 (3): 518–521.
23. Murphy K R, Thornton G C & Reynolds D H. College students’ attitudes toward
employee drug testing programs. Personnel Psychology 1990; 43 (3): 615–631.
24. Raciot B M & Williams K J. Perceived invasiveness and fairness of drug-testing
procedures for current employees. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 1993; 23 (2):
25. Arthur W & Doverspike D. Employment related drug testing: idiosyncratic
characteristics and issues. Public Personnel Management 1997; 26 (1): 77–87.
26. Murphy K R, Thornton G C & Prue K. Influence of job characteristics on the acceptability
of employee drug testing. Journal of Applied Psychology 1991; 76 (3): 447–453.
27. Tepper B. Investigation of general and program specific attitudes toward corporate drug-
testing policies. Journal of Applied Psychology 1994; 79 (3): 392–401.
28. Frazer L. Questionnaire design and administration: a practical guide. New York: Wiley,
29. Hurley M R. A study on retail store employees on the use of illegal drugs and required
drug testing for the use of illegal drugs. In: Undergraduate Journal of Psychology 15.
North Carolina: Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina, 2002.
30. Vella N & Gauci M. Managers’ attitudes to illicit drug testing in the workplace. Valletta,
Malta: Occupational Health and Safety Unit, Department of Labour, 1996.
98 Hogan, Cannon & Nic Gabhainn
31. Mastrangelo P M & Popovich P M. Employees’ attitudes toward drug testing,
perceptions of organizational climate, and withdrawal from the employer. Journal of
Business and Psychology 2000; 15 (1): 3–18.
32. Gerber J K & Yacoubian G S. Evaluation of drug testing in the workplace: a study of
the construction industry. Journal of Construction Engineering and Management 2001;
127 (6): 438–444.
33. Smith A, Wadsworth E, Moss S & Simpson S. The scale and impact of illegal drug use by
workers. Cardiff: Centre for Occupational and Health Psychology, University of Cardiff,
34. Bryan A, Moran R, Farrell E & O’Brien M. Drug-related knowledge, attitudes and
beliefs in Ireland: a report of a nation-wide survey. Dublin: The Health Research Board,
35. Mandell W, Eaton W E, Anthony J C & Garrison R. Alcoholism and occupations: a
review and analysis of 104 occupations. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
1992; 16 (4):734–746.
36. Training and Employment Authority. Annual Report 2005 (appendix 2). www.fas.ie/
annual_report/annual_report05/appendix2.htm (viewed 10 November 2006).
37. International Labour Organization 2003 reference missing.
x. Holcom M L, Lehman W E K & Simpson D D. Employee accidents: influences of
personal characteristics, job characteristics and substance use on jobs differing in
accident potential. Journal of Safety Research 1993; 24 (4): 205–221.
x. Davies J B & Wright L B. Alcohol in the workplace: results of an empirical study
(CRR149). Sudbury: University of Strathclyde for HSE Books, 1997.
Hogan, Cannon & Nic Gabhainn 99