Property: Doctor On The House: Right, said Fred, let's have a spliff and drop an E

Drugs, who needs them? The boys who work in the construction industry, says Jeff Howell
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The Independent Online
In case you were wondering about this column's position on the cannabis campaign, I am pleased to report that drug-taking in the building industry is at an all-time high. For years now, cannabis has been the drug of choice for the manual trades.

There should be no surprise about this - most building workers are males aged 16 to 35, so their drug-taking habits are the same as any other group of their generation - students, footballers, social workers. Howard Marks reckons the British consume around three tons of cannabis every day, and it stands to reason that 1 million construction workers must account for some of that.

An added incentive for building workers to take drugs has been the crackdown on lunchtime drinking, which is clearly a good thing; no one wants people charging around the scaffolding after three pints of lager. But, as anthropologists have discovered, young men always want to get out of their crusts on something, so other recreational drugs can be found on building sites.

Brickies and hod-carriers can often be seen smoking hash in little roll- ups. The tobacco/drug ratio is usually about 99 to one, so there is no fall in productivity; in fact, the net result probably favours the employer. Where a brickie would have savoured a leisurely fag under the eyes of the foreman, with a spliff he is far more furtive - one puff and straight back to work. It's the back-of-the-bikesheds scenario all over again. When it's legalised we'll miss all of that.

Painters, too, are fond of the weed, and with such a monotonous job, who can blame them. Or maybe they see themselves as creative types; after all, there is an honourable history of painters taking mind-expanding drugs - Van Gogh saw those sunflowers in a different light after an afternoon on the absinthe - or was it lead poisoning from licking his paint brushes?

Some labourers take amphetamines, and there are many others who don't, but probably should. The problem with speed is that it can turn them into gibbering idiots; they turn up with the bricks at double quick time, but then stand there yakking on about music or football and forget to go back for the next load.

Plasterers also favour stimulants rather than hallucinogens; the nature of their work demands quick bursts of activity before the plaster starts to set, so speed and cocaine are popular with plastering gangs. Some of the highest-earning spreads use speed and cocaine, but I've never been quite sure whether it's the drugs that make them work fast, or whether they have to work fast to earn the money to pay for the drugs.

Ecstasy is the big drug at the moment, and there are clearly lots of people walking around on site smiling far too much. It is debatable whether they are taking E in order to further their appreciation of shovelling concrete, however. Most of them look as if they have come to work straight from last night's rave. A building contractor mate of mine, who used to sack labourers for turning up late for work, nowsacks the ones who arrive too early. He says he'd sooner have guys with hangovers than ravers still tripping. So who says the construction industry is lax about health and safety?

q You can contact Jeff Howell at the Independent on Sunday or by e-mail on: Jeff@doctoronthehouse. demon.co.uk

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