Construction Industry Grapples With Its Top Killer: Drug Overdose

At One Madison, a high-rise under construction on 23rd Street in Manhattan, workers face dangers daily: live wires, electrical hazards, heavy machinery. Cold gusts of wind whip around them as they lay concrete and operate forklifts. Access to the upper floors of the 28-story building is a ride on a noisy construction elevator.

City and federal officials visited the site recently to give a safety presentation, but they weren’t there to remind workers how to avoid falls or injuries. They were showing workers how to prevent the biggest killer in the industry: drug overdose.

“We ask you to do things based on getting home at the end of the day,” Brian Crain, a compliance assistance specialist at the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, told a crowd of over 100 workers in hard hats. “Addiction works the same way,” he said.

Construction workers already had the highest on-the-job death toll of any industry. Now they are more likely to die of overdose than those in any other line of work, according to a new analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That disparity stems in part from addictive medication workers are prescribed to manage pain from injuries, which are common because of the physical nature of the work.


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