Four out of 10 fatal workplace accidents involve drug use, according to figures cited by a risk control specialist speaking at a recent industry meeting on drug abuse at construction sites.

He and other participants at the roundtable session on construction safety and drug abuse reinforced previous findings by government researchers that there is widespread drug abuse in the construction industry.

The session convened by the drug testing firm Avitar Inc. in Newton, Mass., also heard from representatives of construction firms and a labor management partnership.

Risk control expert Glenn Narrow, with the Boston office of Aon, who cited the incidence of drugs in workplace fatalities, said in an interview today that insurers “won’t quote a wrapup construction policy unless we do drug testing.”

On the issue of the role of substance abuse in workplace deaths, he said that “with fatalities, the discovery of drugs in the system often will minimize the financial outcome of a lawsuit.”

From a loss prevention point of view, employers should look to eliminate people on their site who are drug users, Mr. Narrow explained.

Ten years ago, when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services did a survey of construction industry drug use, more than 25 percent said they had used illegal drugs in the past year. Roundtable participants said drug use is still widespread.

“For the largest construction projects that we handle, drug testing usually costs about $100,000–virtually nothing compared to the cost of project or potential losses that are possible as a result of non-testing,” said Mr. Narrow. According to the Avitar account of the session, Robert Banks, a representative of the Washington-based IMPACT labor management partnership, said that at one of the first construction drug-testing programs in Boston, 700 workers had failed, but since testing became the norm, “our positive rate is now down to about 6 percent.”

However, Mr. Banks said that with the limitation of process and urine testing, the actual positive rate is likely around 12 percent.