Have you ever felt like you’ve gone back in time? Or that someone hit the rewind button on you? That’s how I feel when I look at the opioid issue and its impact on the construction industry.
In 2016 the Keystone Contractors Association conducted a needs-assessment of Pennsylvania’s construction industry. Concerning our construction labor workforce, one glaring topic needed attention and that’s education in the area of opioids/pain medication. Construction is tough on the body, no one denies that statement. When the aches, pains and injuries come, many turned to pills so that they could keep working. Five years ago, we heard story after story on how opioid addiction was wreaking havoc on our industry and our communities.
As a result of our findings, we knew we had to do something. Sure, there were ads to warn against opioid abuse from the government and healthcare systems, but I did not find channels that spoke directly to construction workers. Since I did not have much luck, in the summer of 2017 the KCA worked with industry allies in our state to create the Construction Opioids Awareness Week. This recognition week is the last full week of July and for it we arm construction employers with lots of resources to discuss pain medication use/abuse with their employees. It’s hard to gauge the success of a movement like this, but one indicator that I believe is crucial for success is if we get the construction industry talking about the issue. And over the next few years we had the industry talking – employees were talking to employers.
But then 2020 arrived. The KCA workforce went from building Pennsylvania to being non-essential (NOTE: Pennsylvania was the only state to shutdown construction during the COVID-19 pandemic). For a month and half during the Spring of 2020, the construction industry was shutdown and only healthcare and other projects continued. Then on May 1, 2020, Pennsylvania’s construction industry reopened, while the majority of businesses and schools remained closed or operating remotely.
2020 put a lot of stress on the construction workforce in our state. They went from being unimportant to some instances where workers were the lone person of a household to go into the COVID-19 elements and returning home not sure how to feel or how to interact with their family. Or for the workers who lived alone, it was worse – they went from being non-essential, sitting at home all alone to returning to work but not having the normal human contact after work at such places as church, restaurants, etc.
Along with an increase in stress levels in 2020, the construction industry also experienced an increase in addiction and suicide rates. The sad part is that we were heading in the right direction entering 2020, but this unfortunate downward trend continued in 2021.
In 2022, we are ready to tackle the challenge of reversing these horrible trends happening in our communities. And like 2017, we are ready to make an impact on opioid awareness. We are going to make a difference by returning to the 2017 playbook – conversation is key to building a construction industry in Pennsylvania where people feel comfortable enough to seek help.
For this year’s Construction Opioid Awareness Week, we are encouraging construction companies to reengage on the topic and work to get valuable resources to the workforce while making sure our workforce knows they are respected and appreciated, plus they know it’s ok to ask for help. We want the same energy and passion the industry displayed in the years leading up to 2020 to help our workforce.
This year’s week is July 25 to 29. During this week we encourage companies to participate in the week by offering the following safety toolbox talks:
- Monday – Pain Management
- Tuesday – Signs of Impairment
- Wednesday – Reducing Stigma in Construction
- Thursday – Importance of Employee Assistance Programs
- Friday – How to Use NARCAN
We hope Pennsylvania’s construction industry will join us for a trip back in time when we were helping the lives of our fellow construction professionals. Hopefully, we can create an environment where those needing help know that we are there to assist them.
For more information on the 2022 Construction Opioids Awareness Week, as well as toolbox talks on the topics listed above, please visit: https://keystonecontractors.com/Opioid-Awareness/.