In a new report, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health finds that construction workers made up nearly one quarter of workers in the state who died from opioid-related overdoses between 2011 and 2015. Workers in the farming, fishing, and forestry occupation (mostly fishing) had a similarly high rate of overdose deaths compared to the general population, while warehouse, transportation, maintenance, food service, and health care support workers also died from opioid overdoses at above-average rates.
The study, funded by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found a noteworthy gender gap in the occupational profiles of overdose victims. Most of the construction workers counted in the study were male, and men in the construction, agricultural, and material moving occupations experienced opioid-related deaths at a higher than average rate for male workers in Massachusetts. Among women, however, the highest rates were among healthcare support and food preparation/service workers.
A common thread among the occupations with high rates of overdose deaths is a greater propensity for workplace injuries in these industries, the report notes:
The rate of fatal opioid-related overdose was higher among workers employed in industries and occupations known to have high rates of work-related injuries and illnesses. This finding is consistent with previous research documenting common use of prescribed opioids for management of acute and chronic pain following work-related injury. The rate was also higher among workers in occupations with lower availability of paid sick leave and lower job security. More in-depth research is needed to characterize the potential contribution of these factors to opioid misuse and overdose.
Experts and advocates for occupational safety in Massachusetts tell the Boston Globe they’re not surprised by these findings:
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the US Department of Labor has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that “would amend OSHA’s recordkeeping regulation by rescinding the requirement for establishments with 250 or more employees to electronically submit information from OSHA Forms 300 and 301”:
OSHA is amending its recordkeeping regulations to protect sensitive worker information from potential disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). OSHA has preliminarily determined that the risk of disclosure of this information, the costs to OSHA of collecting and using the information, and the reporting burden on employers are unjustified given the uncertain benefits of collecting the information. OSHA believes that this proposal maintains safety and health protections for workers while also reducing the burden to employers of complying with the current rule.
OSHA illness, injury, and fatality reporting rules was introduced under the Obama administration in 2014 and 2016, requiring employers to report work-related fatalities and severe injuries to the administration and later to electronically submit injury and illness information to OSHA annually. The new administration’s rationale for the regulatory change is that “the electronic collection of case-specific forms … adds uncertain enforcement value, but poses a potential privacy risk under FOIA,” the notice states.
Belden Inc., a manufacturer of electronic networking equipment based in St. Louis, Missouri, faces the same labor market issue as most other industrial employers in the Midwest, including the challenge of hiring and retaining workers for safety-sensitive roles in places where opioid addiction has reached epidemic proportions. Belden’s CEO John Stroup is taking an innovative approach to tackling the opioid problem at his company’s factory in Richmond, Indiana, where this past winter, one in ten applicants failed their drug tests, as did several people already employed there. At CNN Money last week, Lydia DePillis profiled Stroup’s efforts to give these workers a second chance:
For Stroup, the decision was a simple cost-benefit analysis: How much would it cost to help people get sober in this Rust Belt town of 37,000, compared to what he was losing by not having them available to work? After a few meetings with board members and addiction experts, he came up with a plan. If an applicant or a current employee failed a drug test, but they still wanted the job, Belden would pay for an evaluation at a local substance abuse treatment center.
People deemed to have a low risk of developing an addiction could spend two months in a non-dangerous job before they are allowed to operate heavy equipment again, as long as they passed periodic random drug tests for the rest of their time at the company. People at high risk would spend two months in an intensive outpatient monitoring and treatment program, with the promise of a job at the end if they made sufficient progress. On average, Belden figured it would have to shell out about $5,000 for each person it gave a second chance to.
The experiment started in March and has so far had eight participants. Two at-risk current employees made it through the monitoring period and are back to work, while others are still being evaluated. It will take a few more months to see if the program really works, but the few Belden employees who spoke to DePillis said they were heartened to see the company trying to help current and prospective employees with opioid issues recover rather than discarding them.
Naloxone, commonly sold under the brand name Narcan and available without a prescription in every US state except Nebraska, is an opioid receptor antagonist used to treat overdoses of heroin and other opiates. Delivered via injection or a nasal spray, the drug has been credited with saving many addicts’ lives and has lately been the subject of numerous awareness campaigns in the US urging people who interact frequently with opioid users to have the antidote on hand and know how to administer it.
Last month, US Surgeon General Jerome Adams urged employers to stock naloxone at worksites as well, and train employees on how to use it, Allen Smith reported at SHRM:
“For a heart attack, we train employees how to do CPR until the paramedics arrive,” Adams noted April 19 in Washington, D.C, at Business Health Agenda 2018, a conference sponsored by the National Business Group on Health, speaking about the opioid epidemic. “Why is that not the case with naloxone and Narcan? We need to make these emergency treatments as ubiquitous as knowing CPR and calling for a defibrillator when someone is having a heart attack, or using an EpiPen when someone’s having an allergic reaction.”
Even before the surgeon general’s statement, a few clients of Nancy Delogu, an attorney with Littler in Washington, D.C., made naloxone available at work. They made this decision after employees overdosed on opioids at work. …
The witching hour is upon us, and SHRM’s legal blogger Allen Smith highlights some of the spooky liabilities employers can court with typical workplace Halloween events:
Take an employer that set up a haunted house on its premises in a town that did not have one. The Midwest-based financial services company thought that it was being altruistic, but because of the haunted house’s poor design, a chainsaw-wielding accountant dressed up as Jason Voorhees from the “Friday the 13th” horror movies chased an intern into a wall and she broke her nose. If a company is not in the business of running haunted houses, it should think twice before setting one up, cautioned Philippe Weiss, managing director of Seyfarth Shaw at Work in Chicago.
Even if no one is injured, Halloween events at work are sometimes so over the top that they lead to bad public relations. … Costumes can also pose safety risks at work, so costume guidelines may be in order. In manufacturing settings, there’s a risk of injuries from long flowing costumes, said John McLafferty, an attorney with Day Pitney in Boston.
Halloween events, particularly costume parties, run risks from the perspective of diversity and inclusion as well. As Fortune’s Ellen McGirt observes, some people take their Halloween costumes well beyond the bounds of sensible taste, and are still showing up to work events dressed to offend colleagues and customers:
Responding to concerns from the US Chamber of Commerce that its previous reporting standards were unfair to employers, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration has decided to reduce the amount of information it publicizes about fatalities in American workplaces, the Wall Street Journal reports:
The publication of the reports—listing the names, locations, employers and circumstances of people who were reported to OSHA as having died in apparent accidents at work—began early in the Obama administration. Before that, OSHA did compile some information about fatalities, according to former OSHA officials. But they said Obama administration officials made the reports more publicized and included additional information.
Last week, OSHA removed links to reports going back to 2009 from its website. Instead, the agency posted a more limited set of information about U.S. workplace fatalities that resulted in citations for companies dating back to the beginning of the year. An OSHA spokeswoman said the new fatality-data listing respects the privacy of surviving family members because they don’t give out the name of the worker who died.
The Chamber of Commerce and other business groups had objected to the Obama-era administration’s approach on the grounds that publicizing the details of workplace accidents before they could be investigated risked unfairly tainting companies with reputations as unsafe places to work.
A new report from the RAND Corporation details the findings of the American Working Conditions Survey (AWCS), a wide-ranging survey fielded in 2015 by RAND in conjunction with scholars from Harvard Medical School and UCLA that paints a troubling picture of the state of the American workplace as “very physically and emotionally taxing, both for workers themselves and their families.” Some of the key findings include:
- The clear majority of Americans (eight out of ten) have steady and predictable work throughout the year, but many fewer work the same number of hours on a day-to-day basis (54 percent).
- Nearly three-fourths of Americans report either intense or repetitive physical exertion on the job at least one-quarter of the time.
- More than one-half of Americans report exposure to unpleasant and potentially hazardous working conditions.
- Nearly one in five American workers are exposed to a hostile or threatening social environment at work.
- Most Americans (two-thirds) frequently work at high speeds or under tight deadlines, and one in four perceives that they have too little time to do their job.
Furthermore, only 38 percent said their job offered good prospects for advancement. On the bright side, however, 58 percent of respondents described their boss as supportive, 56 percent said they had very good friends at work, and four out of five said their job met at least one definition of “meaningful” most of the time. Large majorities said their jobs involved solving unforeseen problems, applying their own ideas, engaging in complex tasks, and learning new things.
In a press release, RAND goes into more detail about what these findings mean for the US workforce: