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Painkiller Addiction Endangers Workers and Jobsites

Insurance industry research has determined that the construction industry has the country's highest rate of opioid addiction.

Wed April 19, 2017 - National Edition
Giles Lambertson

Sometimes when things go wrong for construction workers, they go very, very wrong. A worker wrenches his back when he awkwardly picks up a length of rebar, or tears ligaments when he trips and falls from the operator's platform of a hydraulic excavator, and turns to oxycodone or some other prescribed painkiller to find relief and keep working.

Unfortunately, when the injury heals and the pain goes away, the compulsion to continue to mask everyday stress remains strong. From such circumstances is an opioid addict created.

Indeed, insurance industry research has determined that the construction industry has the country's highest rate of opioid addiction. The implications of such an epidemic are several. It begins with the negative impact on the life of the individual, extends through co-workers becoming vulnerable to dangers from impaired worksite behavior, and ends with a company's financial loss from unproductive employees and higher insurance costs.

The opioid crisis is just one facet of substance abuse in the building industry, of course, and is impacting many other workplaces. Even so, the combination of heavy machinery and a blue-collar workforce has turned the industry into ground zero in the battle to throw back the threat.

What can an employer do? To say the least, it is difficult for management to modify the behavior of substance abusers, whether the abuse is of a prescribed drug or an illicitly obtained one. Both physical and psychological dependence are involved. Diagnosis and treatment are problematic because human beings are capable of both rational and irrational behavior.

Prevention starts with educating employees about being victimized by an opioid. In addition, supervisors and middle-managers must be better trained to discern aberrant behaviors associated with opioid use, and management must provide suitable medical intervention when addiction is either recognized or anticipated. Educate. Monitor. Act.

Abuse of opioids and other substances is just one of several workforce dilemmas facing the industry in the 21st century. However, unlike the others, this problem is not about attracting more people into the industry. This is about helping those already on the job. —CEG Blogger

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