When he said that death and taxes were life’s only certainties, Benjamin Franklin forgot about pain. On the job or at home, pain – sudden and sharp, dull and throbbing, momentary or lingering, physically excruciating or mentally debilitating – is something that everyone experiences.

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LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni

Pain impacts more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined. Research conducted by the American Pain Foundation finds that an estimated 76.5 million Americans have had problems with pain persisting for more than 24 hours in duration.

“While there are many people suffering with pain, every pain experience is unique to the individual,” says LIUNA General Secretary Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “Pain can seriously hinder and sometimes ruin lives, but many people in severe pain look healthy, particularly if the source is muscular, like a strained back.”

It is impossible to fully grasp the extent of another person’s discomfort. Doubters sometimes question: Are you really so incapacitated that you cannot stand, sit, hoist or hammer, or is it just that you do not want to do your job? The inability to convince others that a particular pain is legitimate can add to a victim’s anguish.

In the construction industry, where physical demands increase the probability of getting hurt on the job, pain can force Laborers out of the workforce when, in other fields, they would still be in their prime. Daily work routines involving heavy lifting, awkward body positions and vibrating tools can lead to permanent injuries that push many construction workers into pain-filled retirement by age 55. A recent study found that nearly one in five (19.4 percent) retired construction workers endured severe to very severe pain compared to 3.1 percent of their nonconstruction counterparts. Construction retirees reported “significantly greater problems” with neck and shoulders, hands and wrists, hips, knees, ankles and feet.>

Serious consequences can also follow when circumstances – usually financial – keep workers who are in pain on the job. Working when the body hurts reduces productivity, invites abuse of pain-relieving medication, aggravates existing injuries and can lead to other injuries that may be more serious and more painful.

Pain is costly to bottom lines. In the construction industry, pain from musculoskeletal injuries (MSDs) – muscle, joint and bone – is responsible for over one-third of all lost workday injuries and half of all compensation claims. When a construction worker takes a day off, it is often due to a strained limb or back, which is also the leading cause of disability for all Americans under the age of 45.

Acknowledging pain can lead to its resolution. With modification of tasks and equipment, workers in pain can sometimes continue contributing to the project while recovering. Workplace design can curtail opportunities for pain to arise altogether. Everyone benefits.

Pain may now finally be getting the attention warranted a serious health condition.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act calls for an Institute of Medicine Conference on Pain Care to evaluate assessment, treatment and management of pain and to report to Congress with findings and recommendations. Additionally, 30 medical organizations including the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Emergency Physicians and the American Nurses Association have endorsed A Call to Revolutionize Chronic Pain Care in America: An Opportunity in Health Care Reform.This privately commissioned report calls for treating pain as a chronic illness, more research of pain and an overhaul of how medical schools and the nation’s health care system approach pain care.

“A better understanding of pain will lead to advances in pain treatment,” says Sabitoni. “Injured Laborers will recover faster and may also be able to contribute while recovering. For employers, workers’ compensation and administrative costs will be contained. More effective pain management will be a great benefit to our industry.”

[Janet Lubman Rathner]