The Heartland Center has just released the Fall 2018 edition of our Quarterly Occupational Safety & Health Newsletter. You can read the PDF version here, and the HTML version is available here. Please share the newsletter with your colleagues, either by printing out the PDF and posting it on your bulletin board or by sending them the link. Subscribe to our mailing list now to receive future issues, and please invite your friends to do the same!
Our previous newsletters are archived on this page. While some of the topics covered in past issues are seasonal, many will remain useful and timely for years to come.
The article below is an excerpt from the fall newsletter, which also features concise, informative items on N95 Day, protecting temporary workers, and fire prevention.
Rates of Opioid Deaths Differ Vastly by Occupation
A CDC-funded study found that Massachusetts workers died of opioid overdoses at vastly different rates depending on their professions. While trends may vary significantly in other states, this study has important implications for workers, employers, and health care professionals throughout the US.
The study examined 4,302 death certificates filed in Massachusetts from 2011 through 2015. During this time, more than 24% of opioid-related deaths occurred among construction and extraction workers. To be more specific, almost all of the opioid-related deaths within this sector (97%) were suffered by construction workers. Occupations in agriculture, forestry, and fishing had the second highest rate of death from opioids. In this sector, the majority of opioid-related deaths (74%) were suffered by people who worked in fishing jobs. Other occupations with a higher rate of deaths included, in descending order: material moving; installation, maintenance, and repair; transportation; production; food preparation and serving; building grounds cleaning and maintenance; and healthcare support.
The study found that opioid-related deaths were more common in industries known to have high rates of work-related injuries and illness. They were also more common in occupations with lower availability of paid sick leave or more job insecurity, “suggesting that the need to return to work soon after an injury may be contributing to high rates of opioid-related overdose death.” The study’s authors linked their findings regarding the construction industry in particular to “previous reports that opioids are widely used for pain management following work-related injuries.” High rates of injury and musculoskeletal pain, combined with high rates of mental distress and fear of job loss, may be contributing to fatal overdoses among construction workers.
In a comment on the study, Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, MD, MPH said, “Ensuring that jobs are safe, that the risk of injury is low and that workers have the time for rehabilitation and are not self-medicating to keep working are all key to decreasing opioid overdose deaths among workers.”
In a newsletter item on the study, NIOSH wrote that the study highlighted “the critical need for immediate interventions. For example, educational programs and policies targeted toward occupations with a high rate of fatal opioid overdose should aim to decrease workplace hazards that could cause injury resulting in opioid prescriptions. Other critical steps include post-injury pain management with safer practices for prescribing opioids, overdose prevention education, and effective treatment for opioid use disorders among workers.” While government officials and regulators may be positioned to provide some of the necessary programs, employers also have the opportunity to actively establish policies and priorities to help protect vulnerable workers from opioid abuse.