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Walsh Launches Addiction Recovery Program

Monday, October 25, 2021

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As part of an initiative to address alcohol and drug addiction within the construction industry, U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and the Massachusetts Building Trades Council have launched a new collection of resources.

Accessible through an online portal, the collection of resources offers a calendar of recovery meetings, treatment and counseling services and 24/7 phone numbers for members and their dependents seeking help.

“As a former construction worker and someone in long-term recovery, I am grateful to my partners and friends at the Massachusetts Building Trades Council for taking their support for recovery to the next level,” said Walsh.

“This report and these new initiatives will help countless workers get access to recovery services, reduce the stigma that prevents people from getting help and advance our fight to end the epidemic of addiction that impacts every part of our country.”

Currently, the MBTC is reported to represent more than 75,000 construction workers and other building trade union members within the state. When developing the portal, MBTC coordinated with the Massachusetts Building Trades Recovery Council in evaluating existing anti-addiction efforts.

The resource collection is accompanied by a statewide public campaign to raise awareness of the effort.

“The work being done to combat substance use and dependence in MA Building Trades Unions is historic, and the path has been paved by the leaders who have come before us,” said Frank Callahan, President of the Massachusetts Building Trades Council, in the release. “Building Trade Union leaders have fought substance use stigma and helped found a culture of recovery among the trades.”

The MBTC recovery resources can be accessed here.

Industry Addiction, Suicide Statistics

According to the American Addiction Centers, construction industry workers have nearly twice the rate of substance abuse (15%) as the general adult population (8.6%). The AAC adds that roughly 12% of construction workers have an alcohol use disorder, compared to 7.5% nationally. The trade also suffers from the opioid epidemic, having suffered a fatality rate seven times higher than the general worker population in Massachusetts from 2015-2017.

freeman98589 / Getty Images

As part of an initiative to address alcohol and drug addiction within the construction industry, U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and the Massachusetts Building Trades Council have launched a new collection of resources.

In a study co-authored by researchers from Boston University’s School of Public Health, suicides and opioid overdoses were showing an increase in relation to workplace injuries in 2019.

Sprouting from a previous Boston University study conducted in 2016—concluding that more than 20% of men and women were more likely to die from any cause after experiencing at least a week off work due to a workplace injury—the new article highlights how roles of suicide and opioids play as major causes of death in correlation to experiencing workplace injuries.

Over the course of the 2019 study, researchers looked at 100,806 workers in New Mexico to estimate the association between workplace injury and death. Of the workers included in the study, 36,034 were reported to have experienced injuries causing lost worktime from 1994 through 2000.

In addition to this information, researchers also compiled workers’ compensation data for the six-year period, Social Security Administration earnings and mortality data through 2013 and National Death Index cause of death data through 2017.

According to the university’s research, 72% of men were more likely to die from suicide and 29% more likely to die from drug-related causes when they were reported to have lost-time due to a work-related injury. Additionally, the same men studied also showed an increased rate of death from cardiovascular disease.

When studying women who experienced time lost from injuries, 92% were more likely to commit suicide, while 193% were more likely to die from drug-related causes.

In cases where employees were reported to have taken at least a week off from work due to serious injury, research showed that the combined risk of suicide and overdose deaths tripled among women and increased by 50% in men.

Before the study was published, in 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which included statistics from the 2012 and 2015 National Violent Death Reporting System.

The report concluded that the construction and extraction industries hold the highest rate of male suicide among American workers. The data used for the report looked at 22,053 suicides of people ages 16-64 from 17 states, noting that the data might not necessarily be nationally representative.

The construction and extraction occupational group had the highest number and percentage of suicides among males in both 2012 and 2015.

The rate of suicide per 100,000 civilian non-institutionalized workers was 43.6 (1,009 workers) in 2012 and 53.3 (1,248) in 2015.

The suicide rate among the U.S. working-age population increased 34% overall during 2000-2016.

The top occupations for suicide rates in 2015 include, among men:

  • Construction and extraction
  • Arts, design, entertainment, sports and media; and
  • Installation, maintenance and repair.

Among women, top occupations were:

  • Arts, design, entertainment, sports and media;
  • Protective service; and
  • Health care support.

Industry Mental Health Efforts

At the end of January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its checklists for construction employers and employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, with special consideration for workers’ mental health.

The documents included lists for each party. For employees, the checklist of ways to build resilience includes:

  • Keep a regular sleep schedule;
  • Take breaks to stretch, exercise or check in with someone supportive;
  • Spend time outdoors;
  • Practice mindfulness;
  • Stay informed about how to protect yourself and others; and
  • Connect with others.

For employers, the checklist revolved more around stress management, and includes:

  • Talk openly with employees and/or unions about how the pandemic is affecting work and clearly communicate expectations;
  • Anticipate behavior changes and watch for signs of increased irritation, sadness, unhealthy eating or sleeping habits or difficult concentration; and
  • Ensure that the company has a system in place to identify and provide mental health services to employees who need support.

In April, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health released a survey meant to be a resource designed to measure worker well-being.

The Worker Well-Being Questionnaire (WellBQ) is a free tool that is intended to help researchers, employers, workers, practitioners and policymakers understand workers’ health and target interventions to improve well-being.

The questionnaire comprises 68 questions representative of the five domains, and complementing these are 15 optional items about employment and demographic information, which may be edited as needed to meet user needs.

A draft of the WellBQ was pilot tested in a nationwide sample of 975 workers and reportedly takes about 15 minutes to complete.

The following month, the National Association of Home Builders announced that it was partnering with more than 800 companies and associates for the first-ever Mental Health Action Day, to be held on May 20.

The NAHB cited the rising suicide rates in the construction industry and how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the crisis.

The organization said that, although more people than ever are comfortable discussing mental health, finding effective resources and knowing how to get help remains a challenge. Mental Health Action Day is an open-source movement to drive culture from mental health awareness to mental health action.

Last month, industry partners joined forces to host a Suicide Prevention Week from Sept. 6-10. The week-long event is dedicated to raising awareness about the higher-than-average number of suicides in the construction industry, and to providing resources to help prevent those deaths.

Since launching last year, every September—National Suicide Prevention Month—the construction industry dedicates a week to raising awareness about the unique challenges workers face in construction that lead to suicide and what they can do to prevent it.


Tagged categories: Good Technical Practice; Government; Health and safety; Industry News; NA; North America; Safety; Workers

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