Construction has highest overdose mortality rate of all jobs

Dive Brief:

  • Drug overdose mortality varies widely by occupation, and construction is an especially deadly industry. Construction and extraction jobs led all others in the first year of the pandemic with 162.6 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 workers, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • The overall drug overdose rate increased most years from 1999 to 2020, and in 2021 the U.S. drug overdose rate was 50% higher than in 2019, the report found. Provisional data from 2022 shows drug overdoses dropped 2% from the year before.
  • Construction and extraction occupations’ high overdose mortality rate not only led all industries in 2020, but the 162.6 deaths per 100,000 workers were significantly higher than the 117.9 in food preparation and serving-related occupations, which had the second highest rate.

Dive Insight:

Work-related characteristics, such as the prevalence of workplace injuries, precarious employment, health insurance status, stress, lack of access to paid sick leave and unique stressors during the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the “prevalence and management of substance use disorders,” the CDC said.

In the broader industry group, construction led all categories with a rate of 130.9 deaths, followed by accommodation and food services with 99.6. 

On a more granular level, among construction and extraction occupations, the jobs with the highest overdose rates were roofers (177.4) drywall installers and tapers (175.1) and painters (162.1).

A combination of seasonal furloughs, demanding physical labor — which can lead to strain or injury resulting in a chemical dependency — and workplace culture that sometimes fails to address mental health directly impacts the drug overdose and suicide rate in construction. 

“Every day, construction workers show up to a jobsite that is ever-changing, presenting potential exposures to high-risk safety situations,” Keith McCoy, senior vice president of safety at Balfour Beatty U.S. told Construction Dive in a round table discussion on mental health. “Having to deal with this very unique work environment internally, in addition to workers’ own personal worries and stresses outside of the job, can have a significant impact on their mental health and well-being.”

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