One for the road: Is a beer at work OK?
Culture, safety, liability and camaraderie clash when a ‘Brown Buddy’ is opened
By John Bleasby
It might seem innocent enough: a contractor opening a case of beer on a Friday afternoon to celebrate a week of hard work and progress. Or maybe the client supplied the 2-4, feeling that everyone deserved a reward, or that their generosity might grease the wheels for future off-book favours.
At the risk of being a party-pooper, alcohol on the work site opens up a Pandora’s box of problems. It can also start the slide down a slippery slope. Case in point; a construction crew in New York City was recently filmed drinking beer and hard alcohol during breaks, then returning to their equipment to resume work. The workers were so easy to spot one has to wonder why there was no company oversight; they allegedly gathered at drinking establishments near their job sites wearing colourful T shirts associated with their projects. Although the contractor involved fired some of the workers, the city has now called for mandatory alcohol and drug testing of construction workers.
Suds and blood: A bad mix
In Canada, the regulations across the country are very clear: Alcohol and construction work don’t mix. The slippery slope occurs when a casual beer at the end of the week evolves to a casual beer at lunch; or at a 3:30pm, with the crew returning for a last hour of labour.
It doesn’t take much alcohol in the blood to impact one’s senses and reactions. A 12 oz. beer (equal to what is called a ‘standard drink’) contains enough alcohol to give a 180lb man a blood-alcohol reading of 0.02. Two beers elevates that to 0.04; maybe not enough to result in an impaired driving charge (0.08), but sufficient to impact skills required to handle equipment, according to numerous industry studies.
The reason regulations are so tough on this issue is that the safety of co-workers is at stake when someone even slightly impaired is running tools or equipment. As a contractor, you can be sure that the wrath of the gods (government, insurance companies, lawyers) will descend on you if an accident is found to have a relationship to alcohol consumed on your site.
So where do you draw the line?
Many clients feel that hospitality, or perhaps their own self-interest, dictates a case of beer be delivered at the end of each week of work.
As our house was being built 2 years ago, I hand-delivered the beer to them!! Nothing better than a happy crew! …. Got a lot of changes made without going thru the builder too!
I used to deliver 2 cases of piss beer (Bud Light) every Friday after I got out of work. They looked forward to seeing me pullup and everyone would stop work right there! Fine by me! Keep those builders happy!
The house was only 30 days off schedule which isn’t bad. I got quite a few extras for free just by talking to the guys on the site. Well, not free…2 cases a week for almost 4 months…..close enough!
Cultural issues can also raise their heads (sorry; bad beer pun). One contractor commented on-line that a German-born tradesman on his site drank a beer with his lunch, apparently as part of his culture. He wasn’t sure how to handle the situation. Some replied that a soft warning rather than an official reprimand might dissuade the tradesman. Is that really enough?
How do you handle this issue on your work sites?
Do you allow any beer on the job, even at the end of the day?
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