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It may be no surprise to risk managers that construction workers face a greater risk of injury simply due to the nature of their work. The NSC 2020 Safety Technology in the Workplace Survey shows 41% of workers surveyed were exposed to hazards during construction and installation jobs.

What may be a lesser known risk to construction workers is the threat posed by opioids prescribed after an injury. Overuse of prescription opioids has contributed to a rise in addiction and overdoses. The ongoing opioid epidemic has been exacerbated by the pandemic, with a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finding 13% of respondents started or increased substance use to deal with stress related to the global pandemic. 

More than 87,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in the 12 months leading to September 2020, according to CDC data. In addition, the opioid epidemic has been estimated to cost the economy $631 billion from 2015 to 2018, with lost productivity totaling $96 billion. The construction industry can help reverse these trends. 

What Employers Can Do to Reduce Drug and Opioid Use in Construction

It’s vital for contractors to create and maintain a safe work environment for employees, and it’s imperative for the construction company to develop programs and cultivate partnerships to help employees understand opioid risks and, if necessary, seek treatment for addiction and foster recovery. 

Senior leaders at construction companies can personally change the perception of addiction in the workplace by leading companywide dialogues to drive cultural change within their organization and help alleviate the hurdle of stigma for those who might otherwise seek timely help. 

Leaders should first educate themselves on the topic and then ensure everyone in the company has access to these same resources. Free online education about addiction and opioids are available from The Hartford in partnership with Shatterproof, a national nonprofit working to reduce stigma associated with addiction. 

Companies can also provide addiction resources to employees provided free of charge by federal agencies, such as the CDC, as well as look for local support organizations. Employers can also evolve their benefits plans and support services to meet employees’ changing needs. 

Using Drug Screening and Testing on Construction Sites 

Construction workers have to make sound decisions on the job. If a worker is under the influence of drugs, it puts them and their colleagues in danger. A drug testing program can help create a safe construction site. Many contractors already require drug testing for their employees and subcontractors. And many are expanding their drug testing programs in light of the opioid crisis. 

It’s important to work with knowledgeable drug testing firms and medical professionals that understand local issues. Businesses should consider using as broad of a drug-testing system as possible. For example, a 10-panel test with expanded opioid testing works best because standard tests sometimes don’t pick up addictive substances. It's also imperative to talk about expanded panels with local professionals. They know which substances to test for based on positive results from other customers. Many contractors and owners are paying attention to this growing workplace issue. 

The drug testing trend within the industry helps keep workers productive and safe. Some insurers offer on-site injury prevention programs for construction clients, including drug testing. It can save time and lower the risk of accidents and injuries. Programs can even include a full-time clinical resource to provide guidance and recovery support for workers suffering from substance misuse. The Hartford, for example, has a Health Services Team that will work with clients to set up on-site drug testing. A medical services team helps make decisions on which tests are needed along with information on issues with certain drugs in the area. The Hartford has worked to enhance on-site testing working at larger projects, as well as projects covered by consolidated insurance programs or wrap ups.

Using Expertise and Data to Help Employers and Construction Workers

The Hartford’s Opioid Aware program educates and advocates to reduce opioid use across the country, with a comprehensive opioid management strategy that includes:

  • establishing medical networks with responsible prescribing doctors;
  • having RN’s review opioid prescriptions for necessity and appropriateness;
  • reaching out to doctors and workers’ compensation and group disability claimants to provide education about opioids; and
  • utilizing data to identify claimants most at risk of opioid misuse.

It is important to have claims adjusters who are trained to focus on mental health issues and help injured workers during the return-to-work process. The Hartford continues to demonstrate its commitment to the issue so people do not develop substance use disorder following an injury or illness.

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