Over a third of construction workers have at least one type of musculoskeletal disorder (MSD), and are three times as likely to have a prescription for opioids than workers without MSDs, according to CPWR — The Center for Construction Research and Training. Prescription opioid use quadrupled for workers who have an injury associated with their MSD.
MSDs are more common among older workers, CPWR found, as well as those who are self-employed or have other health issues.
CPWR believes that the Bureau of Labor Statistics underestimates the prevalence of MSDs among construction workers, noting that data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, which measures how Americans access and pay for medical care, show the incidence is much higher.
“Studies have found that both the prevalence of opioid use and death rate due to opioid overdoses were significantly higher among construction workers than for workers in other industries,” according to CPWR. “To reduce the combined burden of MSDs and the opioid epidemic, the construction industry must adopt ergonomic solutions to reduce MSDs and support workers in injury recovery with effective, non-opioid pain management methods.
A study published in New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy found that over half of workers surveyed had experienced work-related pain that lasted at least a week. Of those, 26% had received a prescription for opioids. Peer-based training regarding opioids is an effective way to increase workers’ understanding and awareness of opioids, and to reduce their concerns about seeking help if they need it, researchers found. Retaliation and social stigma are related to harmful attitudes, they noted, “but job insecurity also results from employment policies and economic conditions that cannot be changed through worker training.”
The authors concluded, “In other words, the cost of negative attitudes may be higher in an occupational context, although unionized workers may have greater job security than non-union workers facing addiction challenges.”