A new Canadian toolkit of resources for dealing with substance abuse in the workplace has been released targeting the construction and transportation sectors specifically as the industries most in need of help.
The toolkit, titled Substance Use and the Workplace: Supporting Employers and Employees in the Trades, was unveiled by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) Aug 10. The CCSA explained trades are being targeted because they are being disproportionately affected by the current wave of opioid deaths in Canada that has seen over 19,000 people die from their use since 2016.
Shawna Meister, a senior research and policy analyst with the CCSA, who worked on the toolkit, explained there is obviously a long-term need to address substance use in workplaces but it was realized there is a short-term need for immediate information as the opioid crisis grows.
“The immediate need right now is to try to reduce young and middle-aged men from dying due to opioid poisoning,” said Meister. “The CCSA is working in collaboration with Health Canada and various other organizations in the trades. We decided to put together a collection of resources to help employers and employees do something right now.”
In 2020, most opioid poisoning deaths occurred among males (77 per cent) and adults aged 20–49 years (68 per cent), according to the Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses.
A total of 6,214 Canadians died last year due to opioid-related overdoses and new modelling from the Public Health Agency of Canada suggests opioid-related deaths could continue to increase, or may remain high, throughout 2021.
The CCSA partnered with the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety on the toolkit.
“We often hear from employers that they really don’t know what to do about alcohol use or cannabis use or prescription drug use or any of those types of areas,” said Meister. “So we usually remind them that, from an employer and workplace perspective, their role is to focus on employee health and well-being and that just like any other medical condition, they don’t need to diagnose the use, so leave that to the medical professionals.
“Instead, what they can do is, in terms of this toolkit, use the resources there to help them develop policies and best practices so that they support the employees to either seek help or get more information.”
The resources also are meant to help reduce some of the risks for employees and employers, Meister added.
“The toolkit was really more of, let’s put this all together so somebody can find these easily because we know it can be challenging for employers and employees. They’re not sure where to look for the information.”
The toolkit includes sections on prevention resources; explaining stigma; problems with organizational cultures and workplace risk factors; education resources; addressing substance use in the workplace; policy and procedure guidance; employee resources including getting help; and lists of related sources or organizations.
Workplace risk factors listed include many experienced by construction workers: shift work, access to alcohol or drugs, repetitive duties, working long hours, working remotely or unsupervised, high-stress work, pressure to use, organizational culture, stigma about getting help and higher risk of injury.
“The majority of people who are affected by substance use problems, they have a job, but because of the stigma around substances, many are afraid to seek help,” said Meister, noting the CCSA prefers to refer to substance “use” rather than “abuse” in part to reduce the stigma users feel.
“They’re afraid of losing their jobs. They’re worried about being discriminated against. As a result, some of these workers, they will hide their use, and that could put them in danger. From what we’re seeing in the data, men are dying alone from opioid overdoses.”
Meister said employers may wish to use the toolkit to initiate a dialogue on the topic to reduce the stigma so that employees feel more comfortable talking about issues or seeking help.
It is also hoped workers who are experiencing stress or other mental health issues will use the toolkit to become better at talking about their problems so that substance use doesn’t become an outlet, Meister said.
“There are ways to manage stress and pain, injuries, and we try to address this in the toolkit so there are some resources on mental health as well as on managing pain and injury.”
The Daily Commercial News and Journal of Commerce will be delving into issues surrounding substance use in construction in an upcoming feature series.
Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.