Last week Robert Chapple posted an excellent guest post by Stuart Rathbone on working conditions in archaeology (there’s an interesting Facebook discussion on it here). Predominantly focussed on the Republic of Ireland, it builds on personal experience and surveys of the profession (i.e. McDermott and La Piscopia 2008) to debate a wide range of issues (pretty much all of which will be recognisable to UK archaeologists).
I found myself agreeing with much of what Stuart wrote, except for one point: drugs.
Approximately two thirds of the way through the blog is the following paragraph:
Whilst it may be easy to make a few jokes about archaeologists being drunken dope smoking loons, it does a serious disservice to the actual situation…Dope smoking may be becoming ever more socially acceptable, but at the same time it is becoming abundantly clear that it can cause serious psychosis and trigger latent mental illnesses, including bi-polar disorders, especially given the strength of the new hybrid strains of weed.
I’m not comfortable with this statement (partially as it sounds too similar to Gordon Brown, the Coalition, the Daily Mail and Brass Eye) because potency studies suggests a much more complex and nuanced picture (see for instance McLaren et al. 2008: 1100). Regular testing of cannabis since the 1970s has indeed shown an increasing overall strength, but that appears linked to the decline in popularity low THC resins (UNDOC 2005; Korf et al. 2007: 168) and an increase in ‘locally’ grown (i.e. fresher) marijuana / skunk (Sevigny 2013).
The effects of cannabis on the brain are less complex: no one would take it if it didn’t have any. As with any drug the effects are not always good (see Di Forti et al. 2009 for the article on cannabis and psychosis or this very good summary). It’s also true that there is some evidence suggesting cannabis can cause a drop in IQ (Lowry 2013) , but then so can poverty (Lobello 2013). I feel that poverty, being linked to many of the issues Stuart talks about, should be the main issue we seek to tackle within our profession.
Building on this theme Stuart suggests that the archaeological profession should look to the widespread adoption of random drug testing to emulate (and be accepted by) the construction sector:
Archaeological employers should expect a more professional attitude from the workforce and, in line with the construction industry, could perhaps start enforcing random drink and drug tests.
Personally I have always been doubtful of the effectiveness of drugs testing. One of the earliest sections of society to feel the impact of an random tests were prisoners . The effects? Usage of Class A’s skyrocketed (Harris 2002) as they tend to remain in the system for a much shorter time. I am not suggesting that archaeologists are about to switch to crack, but that there does seem something inherently unfair in a testing régime that can – if it chooses – treat heroin and cannabis on the same level in disciplinary matters.
Personal feelings aren’t enough though when there may be a genuine opportunity to improve site health and safety. So I went and had a look at some of the research on the issue to discover if there was any evidence that random drug testing makes work environments safer.
The companies who perform testing for the UK construction industry (such as Randox Testing Services, ScreenSafe and On Site Health Services) certainly seem to think they have evidence on their side, with many stating on their websites that ‘nearly one in seven workers in the construction industry has a serious alcohol problem” as a way to justify the product. Unfortunately not one company can be bothered to cite the source .
We can overlook this though, because there is one statistic these companies are often happy to cite: a study which determined that construction companies using random drugs testing had 51% decline in injury incident rates (Gerber and Yacoubian 2001).
Further research has suggested significant methodological flaws in this study; from treating all forms of testing as the same (Morantz and Mas 2008: 252), failing to document any other safety programs that may have acted as a confounding variable and relying solely on a self selecting sample that risked excluding any companies which experienced a decline in accidents and did not test or did not feel testing was responsible (Macdonald et al. 2010: 413).
In contrast a well cited meta-analysis with a robust methodology (Macdonald 1997) found that:
Evaluation studies have not shown that either drug or alcohol testing significantly reduces work injuries/accidents. Other types of scientific evidence provide some justification of alcohol testing, but not for other drug testing. Alcohol use is much more common than other drug use in industrialized countries, suggesting that alcohol may be more related to industrial accidents than other drugs…..Finally, alcohol testing is more justifiable than drug testing because the results of alcohol tests closely correlate with psycho-motor performance while drug tests do not.
So there is a case for alcohol testing, but little evidence that random drug testing has any effect on safety in the workplace . In reality only one form of drugs testing appears to have been validated as having a positive effect on workplace safety: post-accident/incident testing (Feinauer and Havlovic 1993).
Random drugs testing does not occur in a moral or ethical vacuum. A detailed literature review by Comer (2000) (quoted here at length due to the number of interesting studies cited) found numerous ethical issues with serious implications for staff morale:
…the inability of drug tests to determine impairment, testing has raised moral questions. Specifically, it has been argued that even if employees are using drugs, so long as they perform responsibly their organizations need not know about their drug use, and that if employees’ performance is compromised by drugs, employers may rightfully discipline or dismiss them, but still do not need to know the root of their impeded performance (DesJardins and Duska, 1987). Many have criticized drug testing for intruding on employee privacy (see, for example, Caste, 1992; Flaig, 1990; Haas, 1990; Hanson, 1988; Lewis, 1990; Maltby, 1990; Orentlicher, 1990; Pavlovich, 1989). Indeed, research suggests that drug testing may especially lead to negative attitudes and behaviors when it is perceived as invasive (Hanson, 1990; Latessa et al., 1988; Masters et al., 1988; Murphy et al., 1991; Murphy et al., 1990; Smith, 1988; Stecher and Ross, 1992; Stone and Kotch, 1989; Stone and Vine, 1989).
Because there is considerable evidence that drug testing can have a potentially negative impact on employees’ attitudes and behaviors, and that it cannot detect impaired performance, its usefulness as a management tool is arguable. Some have asserted that workplace drug testing prevails in the United States–despite the absence of evidence of its usefulness for enhancing safety and productivity–for sociopolitical and symbolic reasons, rather than rational practical ones (see Borg and Arnold, 1997; Cavanaugh and Prasad, 1994; Guthrie and Olian, 1991; Karper et al., 1994; Thompson et al., 1991; Wisotsky, 1987; Zimmer and Jacobs, 1992)
(Studies cited in the above quote are listed in a separate bibliography for ease of viewing)
So in summary:
- Random alcohol testing (i.e. a breathalyzer) does improve safety.
- Random drugs testing does not.
- Only post-incident drugs testing appears to have a genuine impact.
- Random drugs testing can have a serious impact on workplace morale and is ethically questionable.
With current evidence apparently conclusive that random testing is ineffective one has to wonder why construction firms (such as Balfour Beatty and BAM, Ferrovial and Kier) are so invested in it. Is it ideological? Wisotsky – writing a year after Reagan and Bush publicly took tests as part of the War on Drugs – certainly believed so, stating that “drug testing as an indicator of impairment is so tenuous that it must be understood as an ideological initiative intended to stigmatize non-conformity and coerce conformity” (1987: 764). More recently the philosopher A.C. Grayling declared that, where substance use affected no one else, drug testing at work “offends against some of the fundamental principles that undergird a liberal-democratic society” (Roberts et al. 2004: 28).
These are pertinent points to consider in a construction industry that has, at times, had a tenuous grasp of the morals and laws of wider society (i.e. the blacklisting of workers over health and safety issues). Can we fully trust these companies to be the gendarmerie of our private lives?
Stuart makes many excellent suggestions on how we can progress as a profession, but I disagree that emulating random testing should be part of this. If we adopt it as a sector wide position we cast aside a large body of research and put our safety in the hands of an unverified ideological position. We potentially place ourselves as foot soldiers on the losing side of a decades old war.
In developing the profession we need to carefully consider exactly what professionalism is and what we want from it. Should we simply echo the values of our larger partners or develop our own values and outlook?
 it’s worth noting that this research is focussed on the damage potentially caused in late adolescence, i.e. beyond the age when many archaeologists enter the workforce. If you consider this a serious issue then you would need to target potential archaeologists at the age of 16, not 26. It is also worth noting that the level of hospital admissions related to cannabis psychosis appear to be closely related to the classification of the drug (Hamilton et al. 2013) suggesting a significant sociological factor.
 This is not to suggest that construction sites are like prisons, but there are potential analogies between them and societies of control (Deleuze 1992).
 The closest result I could find for this figure comes from a 2008 George Washington University study of the US construction/mining workforce that suggested 14.7% (slightly over 1 in 7) had heavy alcohol use. As some of you may have noticed these figures are from a different country on a different continent, consequently one might question the validity of their application to the UK.
 We are not talking about intoxicated people in the workplace being given a free pass, being high or drunk on site should always be a red card issue.
Deleuze, G. 1992: Postscript on the Societies of Control. October 59: 3-7.
Di Forti, M., Morgan, C. and Dazzan, P. et al. 2009: High-potency cannabis and the risk of psychosis. The British Journal of Psychiatry. 195: 488-491. Accessible online at http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/195/6/488
Feinauer, D. M., and Havlovic, S. J. 1993: Drug testing as a strategy to reduce occupational accidents: A longitudinal analysis. Journal of Safety Research 24 (1): 1–7. Available online at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/002243759390046P
Gerber, J. and Yacoubian Jr., G. 2001: Evaluation of Drug Testing in the Workplace: Study of the Construction Industry. Journal of Construction Engineering and Management 127 (6): 438–444. Available online at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1061/(ASCE)0733-9364(2001)127:6(438)
Hamilton, I., Lloyd, C., Hewitt, C. and GodfreyC. 2013: Effect of reclassification of cannabis on hospital admissions for cannabis psychosis: A time series analysis. International Journal of Drug Policy (published online 17 July 2013). Available online at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S095539591300090X
Harris, P. 2002. Drug testing is driving prisoners to heroin. The Guardian Friday 4 October. Accessible online at http://www.theguardian.com/society/2002/oct/04/publicvoices.
Korf, D.J., Benschop, A. and Wouters, M. 2007: Differential responses to cannabis potency: A typology of users based on self-reported consumption behaviour. International Journal of Drug Policy 18 (3): 168-176.
Lobello, C. 2013: Poverty weighs on the mind more than you might think. The Week September 4th 2013. Accessible online at http://theweek.com/article/index/249149/how-being-poor-can-lower-your-iq.
Lowry, F. 2013: Conference News: Cannabis Use in Teens Linked to Irreparable Drop in IQ. Medscape Medical News. Accessible online at http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/803197.
McLaren, J., Swift, W., Dillon, P. and Allsop, S. 2008: Cannabis potency and contamination: a review of the literature. Addiction 103: 1100–1109. Accessible online at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1360-0443.2008.02230.x/abstract
MacDonald,S. 1997: Work-place alcohol and other drug testing: A review of the scientific evidence. Drug and Alcohol Review 16 (3): 251-259. Available at http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09595239800187431
Macdonald, S., Hall, W., Roman, P., Stockwell, T., Coghlan, M. and Nesvaag, S. 2010: Testing for cannabis in the work-place: a review of the evidence. Addiction 105: 408–416. Available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1360-0443.2009.02808
McDermott, C. and La Piscopia, P. 2008: Discovering the archaeologists of Europe: Ireland. Dublin: The Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland. Available at: http://www.iai.ie/index.php/publications/reports.html
Morantz, A.D. and Mas, A. 2008: Does Post-Accident Drug Testing Reduce Injuries? Evidence from a Large Retail Chain. American Law & Economics Review 10(2): 246-302. Available online at: http://www.princeton.edu/~amas/papers/246.full.pdf
Roberts, M., Evans, R., Burgin, Y. and De Rosas, V. 2004: Drug testing in the workplace: The report of the independent inquiry into drug testing at work. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Available online at: http://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/files/jrf/185935212x.pdf
Sevigny, E. L. 2013: Is today’s marijuana more potent simply because it’s fresher? Drug Test Analysis 5: 62–67. Available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/dta.1430/
UNODC. 2005: World drug report 2005. Vienna: UNODC. Available at: http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/WDR-2005.html
Wisotsky, S. 1987: The Ideology of Drug Testing. Nova Law Review 11: 763-778. Available online at: http://heinonline.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.journals/novalr11&collection=journals&index=&id=781
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