by Emily Langner
The construction industry has experienced the effects of the opioid crisis firsthand. Due to the physical demands of the job, injury rates are high compared with other industries, and, according to a 2018 report by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, opioid-related deaths for those employed in the construction and extraction occupation were six times the average rate for all Massachusetts workers, accounting for a staggering 24 percent of all opioid-related deaths among the working population.
On January 23, the Associated General Contractors of Massachusetts (AGC MA) held a summit at the Westin Copley Hotel in Boston titled The Opioid Epidemic: Crisis in the Workplace. The summit was attended by over 170 representatives from construction management and general contracting firms, subcontractors, and the building trades, and addressed the impact of the epidemic on the commercial construction industry and ways people can come together to find solutions.
Michael Botticelli, executive director of the Grayken Center for Addiction, opened the summit by presenting statistics on how the crisis has affected the construction industry and the nation as a whole. Not only has it had a dramatic impact on the lives of those in the industry, but it has had major effects on the economy and healthcare systems, and holds partial responsibility for the shortage of qualified workers.
Botticelli encouraged those in attendance to join together to make a much needed change. “We all know someone who’s been touched by substance abuse disorders and the opioid epidemic,” he said, “and we all know that this is an all-hands-on-deck issue, and that all of us have a role to play both as citizens of Massachusetts and as employers, as family members, and as community members, to make an impact on this epidemic.”
Healthcare experts Ken Duckworth, BCBS of MA & National Alliance for Mental Illness; Julianne Bride, Blue Cross Blue Shield of MA; and Lisa Kelly-Croswell, Boston Medical Center, expanded on the concept of prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery and emphasized the importance of communication and of having senior leadership play a key role in solving the problem. This included structuring healthcare plans to include adequate support for employees and setting up resource centers where they can go for more information.
Bride emphasized how critical it is to have the participation of every team member and every organization. “Start somewhere,” she said. “There is alot of work to be done. Don’t be overwhelmed in trying to figure out where to start. It may feel small, but it will gain momentum and grow over time.”
Shaun Carvalho, Shawmut Design & Construction; Maureen Kirkpatrick, Turner Construction; David Argus, Karas & Karas Glass; Frank Callahan, MA Building Trades Council; and Jeff Werner, N.E. Regional Council of Carpenters Benefits Funds, also spoke at the event, presenting ways to spread awareness and training, implement wellness services and preventative programs, and eliminate stigma that often prevents employees from seeking help.
Tim Irving, assistant regional administrator for the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), closed the summit by sharing his goal for the year, saying, “We have a new challenge now with our workforce. It’s a 24×7 wellness challenge. We can’t just make sure workers go home safe at the end of the day; we have to make sure they’re coming back to work the next shift.” He added, “As business owners, managers, and supervisors, we have a moral obligation to address this issue.”
After presenting recommended steps for companies to take, including injury prevention and providing onsite medical care, Kirkpatrick summed up the goal of the summit by encouraging everyone in the room to come together and not to be complacent. “If we all become more engaged on our job sites to help prevent accidents or come up with polices and procedures, we can change this crisis,” she urged. “We can make a difference within a year.”
Emily Langner is the associate editor at High-Profile.