Strategies to maintain a drug-free workplace


Special to The Vindicator

We’ve seen the news stories. We’ve heard the anecdotal accounts from friends and neighbors. And we collectively shake our heads about what this means for our community each time we hear about it.

Failed drug tests among job applicants are keeping some Mahoning Valley employers from hiring workers they need to fill openings; many of them good-paying, career-building kinds of jobs. This dilemma has been well-covered by the local media.

What’s missing among the debate of this issue, however, is what happens after a candidate passes the initial drug screen and begins employment. What policies, if any, are in place to ensure the employee stays on the straight and narrow? Is that even important to an employer? How does a company protect its investment in training and orienting a new employee once he or she gets in the door?

For the National Electrical Contractors Association - International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers electricians, it’s not enough to simply pass a drug test at the onset of employment. Being drug-free on the job at all times is critical and a matter of workplace safety. It’s a tenet we stand firmly behind and a requirement that differentiates our electricians and electrical contractors within our industry.

We saw the need years ago to provide a drug-free workforce not only as a value to our member contractors, but to protect the customer, as well.

As an industry, electricians are not immune to the issue of drug use among our workforce. But because we have a high-profile, long-standing substance abuse program we do not experience the same high percentage of drug-using applicants and employees as some other industries. Our program is proven successful and a model upon which others should be based.


It is well known that the local NECA-IBEW electricians organization is a drug-free sector, and it starts as early as the time of apprentice interviews. Further, our program requires all employees to participate — from the union electricians to the office staff, supervisors and company owners.

Each year we require employees to attend a substance-abuse educational seminar where the policy is thoroughly reviewed, and changes and updates are communicated. This month we conducted four such sessions between our Warren and Youngstown operations that were attended by more than 500 participants.

To protect our contractors’ investment in training and retaining an experienced workforce, we also offer an employee-assistance program. Here, members can get help to address drug or alcohol issues before they affect their job status or family situation.

All of our substance-abuse and employee-assistance programs are paid for by a formal agreement between labor and management — not through a government program.

May is National Electrical Safety Month, and maintaining a drug-free workplace is sometimes overlooked or taken for granted as a contributor to workplace safety. Our signatory contractors and local unions have made a commitment to protect people and property, and to provide a safe working environment for all employees.

James D. Burgham is the business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 64 in Youngstown.

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