The Problem

Most people in the building and construction industry acknowledge that alcohol has been part of the industry’s culture for many years. The claim that high levels of alcohol and other drug consumption exists is supported by research data and most stakeholders in the industry.

The combination of these levels of consumption and the fact that the building and construction industry is the second most dangerous industry in Australia, creates a very real potential for safety, industrial and personal problems in the workplace.

The Target Group

The construction industry is a diverse culture that brings together a unique collection of characters and lifestyles. It is predominantly an all male environment where drinking forms a major part of its camaraderie dynamic, and alcohol is used as a reward for, and means of celebrating, a job well done. It also contains many young, inexperienced and easily influenced workers who earn extremely good money and are presented with a vast array of options on which to spend it. This group are often the innocent victims of peer pressure which can at times be dangerously negative, often encouraging reckless behaviour in regard to alcohol, drugs and other lifestyle choices.

The Building Trades Group Drug & Alcohol Program

In 1989 Patricia Carr, Workers Compensation Officer for the CFMEU, was concerned that the abuse of alcohol and other drugs in the building industry was not being confronted, and was leading to accidents and an unsafe workplace.

In response Pat established the Building Trades Group of Unions (BTG) Drug and Alcohol Committee and invited building workers to become involved in its activities. The Committee met regularly with rank and file building workers on construction sites and after much discussion, drafting and redrafting, a program and workplace policy for the building and construction industry was developed. The Program policy was taken to mass meetings of workers where it was endorsed unanimously and then to the BTG where it was endorsed and became Building Trades Group Policy.

21 years since its inception, the program, is now being implemented nationally, achieving a high level of acceptance and becoming institutionalised within the industry. It is now a standard inclusion in all Enterprise Bargain Agreements negotiated in NSW.

The three main stakeholders in the construction industry are the workers themselves; the employers; and the unions. All three have different economic, political and ethical interests and agendas. The programs success lies in its ability to continually and effectively meet needs of all three groups.

The aim of the Program is to improve safety on building sites by teaching workers to take responsibility for their own safety and that of their fellow workers in relation to drug and alcohol use; and to inform workers with drug and alcohol problems of available treatment options. This is achieved by:

a. Raising awareness of safety and health issues related to the use of alcohol and other drugs. Workers are addressed at site meetings and shown the video “Not at Work, Mate”. The Program’s messages are promoted at the site by posters, stickers, T- shirts and leaflets. On appropriate sites the program has now commenced having it’s messages included in site induction training for all workers.

b. Increasing workers’ commitment to alcohol and drug safety, by seeking to have the policy endorsed on all sites.

c. Training Safety Committee members, delegates and workers on how to implement the Program and intervene when a worker is unsafe or has problems. The Program does this through a specially designed Alcohol and Other Drug Safety in the Workplace Training Course, which incorporates the programs video “Not at Work, Mate” (available for purchase), that is included in general Safety Committee training and is also being presented to construction industry apprentices in TAFE colleges.

In summary, the key features of the Program are:

a. It has been developed by workers for workers

b. It uses peer-education strategies, where fellow-workers (site safety committee or other nominated peers) undertake interventions.

c. It employs a harm reduction approach that focuses on safety and emphasises the impact on all workers of unsafe behaviour caused by drugs and alcohol.

The Program promotes awareness and workplace safety through drug and alcohol education and awareness. Employing a harm reduction approach that focuses on health and safety, the Program emphasises the impact that unsafe behaviour caused by drugs and alcohol can have on ALL workers. It aims to improve safety on building sites by teaching workers to take responsibility for their own safety and that of their fellow workers in relation to drug and alcohol use; and to inform workers with drug and alcohol problems of available treatment options.

Focusing on the workplace and giving people a choice of how they behave in their personal lives, the Program’s philosophy is summed up in the content of one of the promotional stickers it displays on construction sites and in TAFE colleges:

If you choose to use alcohol and drugs, that’s your business
If you choose to do it in the workplace, it’s our business
If you want to stop drinking or using, maybe we can help

The Program employed its first full time Officer in 1992 and today has a Co-ordinator and 2 full time Education Officers working on building and construction sites, and in TAFE colleges. It offers a broad range of awareness, educational and training activities and has achieved tremendous popularity and support. It is now the standard industry response to drug and alcohol issues, recognised by employers and unions alike. It is inserted into Enterprise Bargaining Agreements, thus making it a legally binding and enforceable award provision.

Since its establishment the Program has presented its Policy/Program and showed its specially made training video “Not at Work, Mate” or the recently updated version titled “Just Not at Work Mate” to over 151,000 building workers in 1,550 site meetings, and presented our 2 hour education course on drug and alcohol safety in the workplace 360 times to 3,750 safety committee members

The program is funded by a variety of organisations including WorkCover NSW, the NSW Department of Health, the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation, and the construction industry itself through the fundraising initiatives of the Construction Industry Drug and Alcohol Foundation, a registered charity founded by the program in 1994

The Program’s achievements and recognition are not only restricted to its local boundaries, and in 2003 it was awarded the honour of being chosen by the United Nations as one of 15 demonstration projects to be promoted internationally to practitioners and policy makers as a best practice model.

Apprentices – The Future of the Industry

In 1995 the Program identified apprentices as a priority needs group within the industry for drug and alcohol safety education. A young person’s transition to the workforce is a period of major change with greater independence, more money, new friends and social circles, and greater access to alcohol and other drugs.

Available evidence indicates that younger workers in the industry share the high alcohol consumption levels of their older colleagues, and in addition are far more likely to underestimate their drinking. High levels of alcohol and in particular drug use associated with the workplace for this age group have been confirmed by industry stakeholders, TAFE personnel and other relevant sources.

As well as addressing the safety of young workers, the Program saw that targeting young people was a critical step in changing the culture of the industry in relation to alcohol and other drugs. By focusing on apprentices the Program was addressing the people who will serve as role models and leaders for the workforce of the future.

To address the problems of young workers, the BTG Apprentice Training Program was established in 1996. The principal strategy of the Apprentice Program is the presentation of the Drug and Alcohol Safety in the Workplace Training Course, developed by the Program for Safety Committee members and specially modified to suit the needs of young workers. The course has a duration of 2 hours and is implemented by the BTG Program with the co-operation of TAFE NSW, presented as part of the off-site apprenticeship induction at TAFE Colleges.

Since the establishment of the Apprentice Training Program the apprentice training course has been presented 2,850 times to 31,800 apprentices in NSW.