Raising Awareness of the Opioid Crisis in Construction

There are numerous safety hazards in construction, and as roofing professionals, we work diligently every day to protect our crews from job-related injuries.  From training and safety policies to properly maintained equipment and site inspections, ensuring the safety of your crews is a full-time effort that is required for a successful construction business.

When looking at the most commonly cited OSHA standards, the greatest concern is consistently fall protection and hazard communication (among others).  Safety violations of this nature can easily be avoided by providing appropriate safety training and refresher classes such as those offered by Brauner Safety Services.  That being stated, there is another less obvious hazard that is wreaking havoc in the construction industry, one that has been gaining press but still remains a somewhat silent danger: Opioids.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an average of 115 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. The figures are alarming, and it has become a serious epidemic.  Rates of both prescription and non-prescription opioid use have skyrocketed since 1999 – Opioids were involved in 42,249 overdose deaths in 2016, accounting for 66% of all overdose deaths; this is five times the number that occurred in 1999.

When taking a look at the construction industry, the risks and figures become even more significant.  Given the demographics of the workforce and the physical nature of the work, the construction industry is particularly vulnerable to the impact of opioid abuse with workers. A Midwest Economic Policy Institute study reported that the injury rate for construction workers is 77% higher than the national average, and nearly 15% of construction workers deal with substance abuse.

Furthermore, as reported in the Architects Newspaper, a study from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health revealed that, from 2011 to 2015, those employed in the construction and extraction industries accounted for 24% of all opioid-related overdose deaths. This calculates to 150.6 deaths per 100,000 workers. “The report infers that such deaths are higher among workers with jobs where the risk of a work-related injury or illness is high, and employees are often turning to prescription drugs to manage acute and chronic pain.” (source: The Architects Newspaper)

So what can you do to protect your workers?  While your ability to manage your crews’ activities off the job site is limited, you can take proactive steps for raising awareness and providing resources and support for those who need it.

1 – Drug Testing – This one is an obvious one and should already be a staple in your employee hiring and HR policies, but ongoing drug testing and or random testing may also be helpful in identifying employees who are suffering from addiction; such tests should be expanded to cover opioids.

2 – Set the Standard – Consider developing and publicizing a formal, written policy to prevent drug use and help employees suffering from substance abuse.

3 – Look for the Signs – Early detection is one of the most important ways to avoid potential development of an addiction.  Train managers to recognize and respond to pain and opioid misuse issues. There are resources available for helping you identify signs of an issue, and although this is useful, keep in mind that not every sign signifies an abuser and not every abuser will exhibit signs.  Here is a list of signs of opioid abuse as listed by Addiction Center.

4 – Educate and Provide Resources – Help employees recognize and respond to chronic pain issues and potential opioid misuse. CDC provides helpful resources for patients.

5 – Review Your Healthcare and Benefits – Investigate coverage options for pain treatment, including non-opioid therapies, and substance use treatment programs in insurance benefit packages.  The National Safety Council provides tools and a free employer kit that includes:  A guide “The Proactive Role Employers Can Take: Opioids in the Workplace”; tools to examine and update your drug free workplace and employee benefit programs; fact sheets and handouts with helpful information to educate your employees.  Learn more here.

To help those workers who are struggling with opioid abuse or addiction, open communication between management and employees is vital for the safety of your workers both on and off the job site. For too long, there has been a stigma associated with opioid use, leaving many employers and workers reluctant to discuss it.  It requires a company culture where employees feel safe to communicate their concerns without risk of punishment or losing their position.  This open communication and security will go a long way, not just in addressing opioid abuse, but also with building team morale and addressing all safety concerns in the workplace.

To learn more about roofing safety training and programs, visit Brauner Safety Services.  To schedule your next safety training, contact Jim Brauner: 407-403-3959.

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