Navigating the Opioid Crisis in the Construction Industry: Warning Signs and Workplace Strategies

Written By: Atanu Das on Tuesday, February 20, 2024

In a recent article published in OHS Canada Vicky Waldron, the executive director of the Construction Industry Rehabilitation Plan, sheds light on the warning signs and proactive measures discussed during a virtual event on Opioids in the Workplace.

Discussion points were:

Identifying Red Flags: Waldron emphasizes that spotting someone at risk is not foolproof, but behavioral changes can be red flags. For men, increased irritability, argumentativeness, and risk-taking behaviors may indicate a problem, while women might exhibit withdrawal, increased tearfulness, or neglect of personal hygiene. These warning signs, varying by gender, serve as crucial indicators.

The Construction Industry Dynamics: The transient nature of the construction industry, coupled with labor shortages, creates a "perfect storm" for opioid-related issues. Waldron highlights the pressure to quickly return injured workers to the job, contributing to the heightened risk.

Age as a Factor: Julian Toy, a substance abuse professional, emphasizes considering the age of the worker when assessing behavior. While experimentation with substances may be common among younger individuals, abnormal behavior in older workers could signal a more serious issue.

Responding to Warning Signs: Ken Brodie, a senior HSE specialist, stresses the importance of being proactive in developing policies and providing training to employees. Implementing guidelines and responsibilities ensures a swift response if a worker is suspected of being under the influence.

Overdose Response and Naloxone Training: In the event of an overdose, the "SAVE ME" steps are outlined, with Naloxone administration being a critical component. Brodie underscores the importance of proactive training and communication, with a quarter of Modern Niagara Vancouver employees trained on using Naloxone.

The Role of Workplace Factors: Gina Vahlas, from WorkSafeBC, discusses the link between workplace factors and opioid abuse. Physical factors such as high force and awkward postures, coupled with psychosocial factors like low job control, contribute to the "pain crisis." Ergonomic programs are suggested as a proactive approach to addressing pain and reducing the reliance on opioids.

Conclusion: The construction industry faces a unique set of challenges in addressing opioid-related issues. Recognizing warning signs, implementing proactive policies, and addressing workplace factors can contribute to a safer and healthier work environment. By fostering awareness and providing support, the industry can navigate the complexities of the opioid crisis and promote employee well-being.