The Boston Globe published a story recently, that as a Boston construction worker injury lawyer, I find very illuminating about a fact that many people, in the midst of the current opioid epidemic don’t know. Which is: Nearly a quarter of the overdose deaths recorded in a five year time frame involved construction workers. That’s a lot, and it’s no surprise: Construction jobs involve a lot of physical stress, injuries are common, and the pressure to stay on the job even though pain can be severe, is very prevalent. The pressure to continue to stay on the job is due largely to two reasons: 1) Financial & economic pressure to continue working, and a social culture that highlights machismo, or a “tough guy” attitude. (Think about it: Did Arnold Schwarzenegger’s characters ever quit or take time off because he was hurt somehow? Or – for readers of a certain age – John Wayne? Didn’t happen. A construction site is usually male-dominated, and “wimps” usually aren’t welcome.
This dual-fed culture breeds problems. Not only does the construction worker suffer in pain, but he risks his life and the family he is probably trying to provide for, by becoming addicted to powerful pain killers. Workplace injuries at construction sites are legendary: Hard hat locations present a wide swath of potential injury causes – some of them fatal. They include fall injuries, scaffolding injuries, crane injuries, ladder injuries, head injuries, burn injuries, back injuries, hand injuries, laceration injuries, and eye injuries. Construction workers work with extremely heavy equipment, high-voltage wiring, welding equipment, cranes, dump trucks, and even more. They work outside when it’s 10 degrees, and when it’s 100 degrees. They’re constantly exposed to physical stress and discomfort. As a Boston construction accident attorney, in my career of more than 25 years, I’ve seen some horrific construction site injuries: Crushed limbs, amputations, paralysis, horrific burns, traumatic brain injuries, and on too many occasions, even death.
But what we need to do as a society, in both dealing with the opioid epidemic and in general on the subject of workplace safety, is recognize a very important point: When workplace safety is compromised or neglected, it’s not just the worker – whether a Massachusetts construction worker or any other type of worker, who suffers, it is everyone: It is the ambulance or EMT crew that responds to an opioid overdose. It is the hospital Emergency Room doctors and nurses. It is the families of the overdosing worker. It is the insurance companies and their rate payers whose premiums pay for this care. In short, it is society who suffers – as we are seeing with the persistent opioid epidemic.
Our first responses to the opioid epidemic should be two-fold: One, treat the addicted – not punish them, criminally. And two: Institute changes to the driving factors behind the growth of this epidemic – one of which is that over 25% of opioid overdose deaths are due to Massachusetts construction site accidents. One cannot solve a problem, until one addresses the source of it.
My message to Massachusetts construction site workers: If you’ve been hurt on the job at a construction site, don’t try to play the “tough guy” by ignoring your pain and loading up on powerful, addictive opioid pain medications. Play the smart guy – and you’ll honor yourself and your loved ones in the process. If you have been injured on a Massachusetts construction job site and you have any questions about the best way to proceed, our office is happy to speak with you, without charge.