The US has an opioid problem. The number of drug overdose deaths has more than doubled in just six years, according to the CDC. Opioids, which include prescription pain killers like oxycodone, synthetics like fentanyl and illegal opioids like heroin, are to blame for the current abuse crisis. According to the CDC, opioid use, especially synthetic opioids, are a huge factor in fatal overdoses, which largely increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Opioids are also a huge problem in the construction industry.
The CDC states that more construction workers die from overdoses compared to other occupations, including heroin overdoses. The data shows construction workers make up 15% of all workplace overdose deaths despite representing only 7% of the workforce. According to one study, the construction industry has the third-highest rate of workplace fatalities from all substances in the US.
Construction Carries Increased Opioid Use Risks
Construction work is physical. The carrying, lifting and manual requirements can cause musculoskeletal pain for which opioids are prescribed. According to the CDC, 15% of workers who were prescribed opioids for muscle pain became long-term users, who are nearly 10 times as likely to develop opioid use disorder. The risks of opioid abuse increase when construction workers are:
- Prescribed high doses
- Diagnosed with chronic muscle pain
- Given more than 7 days of supply
- Given long-term opioid prescriptions
These findings demonstrate the importance of improvements to the daily working conditions of a construction job site to minimize injuries.
How Construction Companies Can Help Prevent Opioid Abuse
Preventing opioid abuse starts with reducing or eliminating the need for pain management by creating a safer working environment. Each year the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) releases a list of the top 10 workplace safety violations. For 2021, that list included:
- Fall Protection, general requirements
- Respiratory Protection, general industry
- Ladders, construction
- Scaffolding, general requirements, construction
- Hazard Communication Standard, general requirements
- Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout), general requirements
- Fall Protection – Training Requirements
- Eye and Face Protection
- Powered Industrial Trucks, general requirements
- Machinery and Machine Guarding, general requirements
Implementing some best practices—such as offering proper training for workers, creating a safety program, providing personal protective equipment and following OHSA safety recommendations—can reduce accidents and help prevent deaths on the job site.
Construction companies can also offer comprehensive healthcare coverage and support for substance abuse.
- Besides providing medical care that covers physical therapy, enhance options that provide mental health and substance abuse treatment.
- Offer incentives or rewards for choosing non-opioid pain management techniques.
- Share information about how to avoid opioid misuse.
- Make sure your company culture destigmatizes mental health issues and substance abuse by providing support materials and offering peer or community support programs.
Opioid use among construction workers is a real issue and companies need to be aware of the risks their employees face and take steps to prevent or mitigate the impact on the construction workforce
Learn more about opioid abuse in construction and treatment options.