- In an August 2018 report on state opioid deaths by occupation and industry during the years 2011 through 2015, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health revealed that construction and extraction (i.e., mining, quarrying, oil and gas extraction) workers had six times the opioid-related death rate as workers in other industries. Of all opioid-related deaths in the construction and mining category, construction occupations represented 97%.
- According to the department's study, which used state death certificates to arrive at its numbers, opioids accounted for approximately 1,096 overdose fatalities in the construction and extraction industry, or 150 deaths per 100,000 workers. The average rate for all workers in Massachusetts was 25 per 100,000 workers. Other construction-related occupations like material moving (59); installation, maintenance and repair (54); and building and grounds cleaning and maintenance (38) also had higher-than-average opioid death rates.
- The department said that the number of fatal opioid overdoses is greater in those occupations that have high rates of workplace injuries and illnesses, perhaps indicating that some cases of prescribed opioids contributed to fatal overdoses, although the agency said more research is needed to reach a conclusion. The rate of opioid-related deaths was also higher among those with limited paid sick leave and lower job security. In addition to evaluating how opioids are prescribed and managed, the report also suggests that employers focus on preventing the injuries for which opioids are prescribed.
Workers in the construction industry are more susceptible to on-the-job accidents like slips and falls, which can lead to not only acute pain at the time of the injury but to long-term, chronic pain. In both situations, doctors could prescribe opioids.
As the Massachusetts Department of Public Heath's report indicated, one way contractors can reduce the chance that their employees will become addicted to or abuse opioids or other painkillers post-injury is to prevent the injury from happening in the first place.
To that end, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration offers free online resources for the construction industry that address accident prevention.
In addition to causing injuries, falls are also the leading cause of deaths on construction sites. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 991 construction fatalities recorded in 2016, 370 were caused by worker falls to a lower level (versus trip or slip-type falls). OSHA said all of these deadly falls were preventable.
The agency said in order to stop these types of accidents from happening, employers need to plan ahead, assess potential hazards and identify what kind of safety equipment will be needed to perform their work. Once they are sure they have the correct equipment, then they must train workers on its correct use, whether it's scaffolding, ladders or personal protective equipment. Contractors should also train their employees to recognize, avoid and report potential hazards.