Construction workers are seven times more likely to die of opioid-related overdoses than the average worker. That’s in part because construction workers experience higher rates of injury than the average worker, so they’re more likely to be prescribed opioids in the first place. Other factors, such as the physically demanding nature of the work and a lack of paid sick leave, also contribute to the risk that workers will become addicted to opioids.
Opioid use disorder is a treatable disease. However, statistics show that only about one in four people with an opioid use disorder receives treatment. Workers who don’t receive treatment are more likely to fall out of the workforce, which only increases barriers to getting help when resources are often tied to employer-provided healthcare coverage.
“Addressing the potential for opioid misuse in construction helps protect the individual health of members and the safety of the jobsite as a whole,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer Armand E. Sabitoni. “LIUNA Local Unions, health and welfare funds and signatory contractors can all play a supportive role in helping members recognize the risks of opioids and get treatment if a substance use disorder develops.”
Three Pillars of Opioid Misuse: Prevention, Treatment, Recovery
The Healthier Workforce Center of the Midwest recently released two comprehensive guides to help employers, unions and health and welfare funds in the construction trades develop and implement policies around opioids.
Organizations without a current program can get started by following Starting a Prevention Program for Opioid Abuse in Construction. That guide outlines the eight essential elements that should be part of a successful opioid abuse prevention program:
- Build a Culture of Care – Use organization policies, communication and education to show a commitment to supporting and protecting worker wellbeing.
- Educate Employees on Opioid Risks – Regularly educate all workers on the risks of opioids on health and workplace safety, including policies and prevention strategies.
- Train Supervisors on Managing Workplace Substance Misuse – Ensure all supervisors know the organization’s policies around opioids and how to recognize when workers may be experiencing a substance use disorder. Extend that training to include benefit information and resources available to workers in need of help.
- Written Controlled Substance Use Policy – Design a policy that outlines the expectations, prohibitions, program elements, consequences, appeals process and available benefit and treatment resources.
- Drug Testing Program – Implement a drug testing program with clearly defined steps and communicate it to all employees. An effective program helps maintain overall site safety by deterring workers from coming to work impaired or using prohibited substances during the course of the workday.
- Healthcare Insurance and Pharmacy Coverage – Offer healthcare and pharmacy coverage for non-opioid pain management therapies as well as behavioral health and recovery treatment, including medication-assisted treatment.
- Employer or Member Assistance Program (EAP/MAP) – These services can address opioid misuse through screenings and early identification, short-term counseling and referrals to treatment. For more information, order the Fund’s The Many Benefits of Member Assistance Programs fact sheet.
- Legal Concerns – Ensure compliance with federal and state laws related to drug-free workplace policies, labor laws and collective bargaining, worker privacy and the Americans with Disabilities Act, among others.
Unique Challenges of the Multiemployer Construction Environment
Once employers know the key steps, they should explore the Healthier Workforce Center of the Midwest’s second guide, Workplace Guidelines to Prevent Opioid and Substance Abuse for the Construction Trades.
This more comprehensive document explains potential challenges specific to the multiemployer union construction environment. In this system, certain policies and programs are decided by the employer, while other health benefits are decided by health and welfare funds or agreed upon at the bargaining table. All of these organizations must work together to identify and fix coverage gaps or other barriers that make it more difficult for members to get the prevention, treatment or recovery resources they need.
LIUNA District Councils, Local Unions, signatory contractors and health and welfare funds all have a responsibility to help members suffering from opioid use disorders and implement policies and programs that prevent more members from developing them in the future. The Fund’s Health Promotion Division can assist with the development or review of drug-free workplace policies, including adding information about opioids into existing policies. The Division encourages LIUNA health and welfare funds to provide EAP/MAP services and can also work with health and welfare funds interested in adding such a service.