Managing the Opioid Crisis in Construction

Opioids are one of the most commonly prescribed drug classes for chronic pain or injuries in the workplace. The problem is that it can easily become addictive, causing dependence in its users and risks in their workplaces. While this post is not a substitute for advice from a certified legal professional, some of this information may help shed some light on options for handling addiction within a workforce.

The national opioid crisis disproportionately affects the construction industry - the opioid spend is at least 5% higher than any other industry. Due to the physical and collaborative nature of construction, operating under the influence can lead to accidents, delays, quality issues and even death. The epidemic is taking nearly 100 American lives each day, so it's more crucial now than ever to develop a plan to keep your workplace safe and your employees motivated to avoid using opioids.

Prevention is Key

Because most opioid abuse cases stem from injuries sustained in workplace accidents, it's important to ensure the safety of company work sites by checking them consistently for potential safety threats. Go the extra mile and hire third-party safety firms to come check your job sites from safety issues. By heading off accidents and injuries before they have a chance to happen, companies can reduce the risk of their employees developing an opioid addiction due to workplace injuries.

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On the flip side, workplace accidents can also be caused by individuals under the influence of controlled substances. Implementing random drug screenings both during the hiring process and at any time during the employee's career can be helpful in keeping would-be users accountable. It can also help stem risk by helping managers identify users before they sign a contract. These policies should be clearly outlined in employee handbooks and disclosed at the time of interviews so that employees do not feel blinded. This also gives the opportunity to promote positive behaviors as opposed to punishing negative ones.

An Employee Tested Positive...Now What?

In the event a candidate were to test positive for opioids or other illegal substances, the company would probably choose to offer the open position to a different candidate who had tested negative. The situation is often more complicated when an existing, loyal employee tests positive. Make sure your company has clear policies in place for when this scenario occurs. It's all about the best fit for your company. No matter what the company policy is on opioid findings, it should be consistent with the organization's core values and should follow appropriate legal guidelines.

Keep in mind that employees have often been legally prescribed opiates by physician for a number of health problems, which could have stemmed from workplace injuries. Some employers opt for a three-strike rule with different disciplinary action for each strike. Others favor a zero tolerance policy. There are also companies who work with their employees to come up with a plan to wean off opiates under medical supervision. Employee assistance programs (EAPs) can also help employees kick their addiction and save their company time and money. They can include counseling, referrals and other services to help employees overcome their addiction and return to work.

At the end of the day, you need to do what you need to do to keep your employees safe and your projects on track. Nobody wants to have accidents or death at their worksites and working toward having a substance-free employee base is the best way to prevent it.

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