Despite the strong connection between workplace injuries and opioid addiction, a majority of the Nation's employers do not feel they are fully capable of dealing with the concern, says the National Safety Council (NSC). Data reveals that many employers remain hesitant to take the steps necessary to prevent or control the risks posed by a potential opioid problem in their workforce and, as a consequence, injured workers continue to suffer a higher than normal incidence rate of opioid addiction. However, by focusing their efforts on two primary objectives – drug use policies and health care oversight - corporate leadership can reduce both the likelihood of injury and the risk of potential opioid addiction if an on-the-job injury actually occurs.
According to the NSC, three in four employers (75%) report work-based opioid challenges are negatively impacting their business, with more than a third (38%) experiencing poor performance or absenteeism, and almost a third (31%) suffering through an overdose or an on-the-job injury. In fact, workplace overdose deaths (by drugs or alcohol) have risen 25% in each of the past five years, another indicator that organizations are struggling to contribute all that they can to reduce (or at least stem) the tide of workplace-situated, addiction disasters.
A closer look at the NSC survey adds depth to the conclusion that employers are perplexed by the problem:
Despite years of data and information relating to the opioid crisis and its impact on America's workforce, it appears that the country's employers - the front line in many cases for injury and opioid addiction prevention - have not yet embraced the concern as their own or one they should be controlling.
Ignoring the issue is not an appropriate response, however. At CompEx MSA, we've dedicated several articles over the past two years to the opioid concern, paying specific attention to its impact on the workers’ compensation sector.
Despite these efforts, the opioid challenge continues to take lives prematurely, to such an extent that it has single-handedly reduced the country's average life expectancy by 2.5 months (so far).
These facts and figures about the prevalence and toxicity of the opioid concern across America's industrial complex should raise every employer's concern about their possibly less-than-comprehensive response to the issue. The best response would incorporate each of the three elements of the current concern to lay a sustainable and effective foundation for a comprehensive solution that:
While maintaining the quality of staff and value of benefits is specific to each business, all businesses can benefit from addressing the other two legs of the triad, preventing injuries and properly caring for those that occur. In reality, attention to the latter two (prevention and care) also assists in the retention of the first (a high-quality staff).
Maintaining a safe workplace is perhaps the best route to an uninjured workforce, which is also key to keeping corporate costs in line. Most employers are careful to maintain the workplace safety guidelines established for their industry by the government; keeping those current is a critical component of managing a healthy workforce.
One element that is often missing from those 'workplace safety' standards, however, is a fully informed and enforced drug-free workplace policy. The NSC survey indicates that, although 86% of companies have such policies on their books, only 60% have procedures specifically requiring workers to report to their bosses their use of prescription opioids. Half of the survey respondents (49%) were not confident that their HR policies had sufficiently covered the issue of opioid misuse and use in the workplace. Further, even if the policies themselves were completely comprehensive about all opioid-related concerns, almost four in five (79%) employers did not believe that their workers would be able to identify the warning signs of a growing opioid dependency accurately.
Clearly, there are many policy and educational options available to employers today to improve how employers manage the use of drugs in the workplace that can escalate their risk of developing an opioid crisis within their staff. Accordingly, the NSC recommends that every organization review their existing documentation to ensure that it includes:
There are also actions employers can take after discovering an addiction in a worker, too, that can reduce overall costs and get the employee back on the job as quickly as possible.
Every day, over one hundred people die prematurely because of an opioid addiction or overdose. A significant percentage of those people began their journey to addiction because of a job-related injury. Employers, therefore, are in a singularly unique position to address the opioid crisis through better management of their organization and workforce. Ironically, by changing their corporate goals to prioritize safety and drug-use management, they will also achieve their ultimate goal: attracting and retaining a highly qualified – and drug-free, uninjured - staff. For thousands of workers across the country, it's becoming increasingly imperative that more employers adopt this reprioritization sooner rather than later.