The Building Trades Group Drug and Alcohol Program HIV/AIDS project is an education initiative that aims to increase construction workers awareness of the dangers of unsafe sex and unsafe injecting drug use. By utilising The Drug and Alcohol Programs existing program delivery mechanisms (mass meetings, safety committee & delegate structures, and the TAFE education system) the project is able to deliver safe sex and drug use messages which are both effective and appropriate. The Program employs education officers who are former construction workers and have an extensive construction industry background.
The Need for the Project
The building and construction industry has a predominantly male workforce consisting of large numbers of heterosexual young to middle age men. Many feel they are different from mainstream society members. Working hard and playing hard, they see themselves as macho, bullet-proof and thoroughly impregnable. The attitude of “nah, AIDS won’t affect us” is rife. Lots of construction workers do not feel threatened by HIV/AIDS as in their eyes “it only effects poofters and junkies” and they don’t fall into that category. Very little mainstream education has targeted such groups, the result being that many construction workers are totally ignorant of the problem, let alone being aware of solutions.
The Committee identified 3 main areas of risk for the target group.
At Risk Sexual Practices
It would be reasonable to say that most building workers who are not in a steady relationship (and some that are) would frequently engage in unprotected casual sex. Compounding this is the number of young workers look who up to and respect older and more experienced tradesmen, in some cases using them as role models. Unfortunately many of these role models spent most of their active sexual lives in a period where HIV/AIDS, HEP C, and other sexually transmitted diseases did not exist. Therefore many of them have that ocker macho view that using a condom is “like having a shower while wearing a raincoat”, and this message is passed on to younger workers.
Combine this with the “she don’t look like she’d have it” attitude and “I was pissed and didn’t have a condom anyway” and we start to appreciate the tribes risk of infection.
At Risk IV Drug Use
Our industry has a definite role for a strong young workforce, many of whom have a “let the good times roll” attitude. This group contains casual IV drug users who do not see themselves in an at risk category for HIV/AIDS, HEP C etc, due to their irregular IV drug use. Because they don’t see themselves in an at risk group, they don’t see their mates or peers in an at risk group either. They all consider themselves to be purely social users. The false sense of security that comes from believing that “if you haven’t got it and I haven’t got it, it’s OK to share a syringe” or “it’s safe to share syringes if they are properly cleaned” presents a definite danger to construction workers who inject drugs.
Unsafe Syringe Disposal
On some building sites the danger of infection through unsafe disposal of syringes poses a real threat. Syringes may be discarded by workers who have used them, or in many cases have been just thrown onto the site by members of the public. There is a need to have workers themselves acknowledge that IV drug use is a reality, that unsafe syringe disposal does occur on construction sites, and that procedures to deal with the situation must be in place.
Extensive consultation took place on construction sites and with industry personnel to develop resources, outline a method for program delivery and to develop an evaluation plan for the project.
A policy on the safe removal of syringes from site was developed. The policy is then promoted to workers on site, accepted and endorsed as site policy; and then implemented on those sites. The policy contains information, a procedure for the disposal of syringes found on site, and instructions on what to do in case of needle stick injuries.
The projects HIV/AIDS harm reduction messages are delivered in conjunction with the existing harm reduction message of the Building Trades Group Drug and Alcohol Safety and Rehabilitation Program.
This is achieved by:
- The presentation of a 5 minute message at mass meetings on building sites,.
- Distribution of, stickers, flyers to all those attending mass meetings or education courses and condom packs to apprentices in apprentice training courses.
- Displaying of posters, stickers and flyers on construction sites, in TAFE colleges and in union offices.
- Presentation of the 10 minute HIV/AIDS – Hep. C component of our 2 hour workplace training course on Alcohol and other drug safety in the workplace to apprentices in TAFE colleges, safety committees and union delegates.
- Raising awareness of the dangers of unsafe syringe disposal, especially on building sites and promote the committees policy on the safe disposal of syringes on site.