Women and men injured badly enough to miss a week of work – the threshold for qualifying for workers’ compensation benefits – are more likely to die from suicide or pain medication overdose, a study from Boston University (BU)says.
For women, the potential for suicide or fatal overdose triples after a long-term workplace injury, the study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine found. The danger doubles in men.
Previous research has indicated that injured workers are at increased risk of depression, loss of earnings and are frequently treated with opioids for pain management. Given those facts, the researchers examined whether workplace injuries led to increased opioid addiction and suicide, Leslie Boden, BU professor of environmental health and a senior author of the study, says in a news release.
Drug overdoses and suicides have been rising since 2000 and are major contributors to a decline in U.S. life expectancy, the researchers say.
Boden suggested that improved pain treatment, better treatment of substance abuse disorders, and treatment of post-injury depression could substantially reduce deaths linked to workplace injuries.
Workplace Injuries Among Women and Men
The BU study was based on New Mexico workers’ compensation data for 100,806 workers injured from 1994 through 2000, along with Social Security Administration earnings and mortality data through 2013 and National Death Index cause of death data.
Recently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) said there were 882,730 occupational injuries and illnesses in private industry nationwide in 2017 that resulted in days away from work, essentially the same as reported in 2016. The median number of days away from work was eight each year.
The most recent annual report from the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission says more than 7,900 workers filed for workers’ comp benefits in 2018, of which 5,195 were men and 2,733 were women.
In a previous blog post, we discussed the fact that men are more likely to be injured or killed at work than women, most likely because men dominate more dangerous industries, such as construction, oil and gas extraction, structural steel production, commercial fishing and logging.
Data suggested that if a worker had filed a prior workers’ compensation claim, it increased the odds that the worker (whether male or female) would file another claim in the future. The combination of past claims and certain behavioral risk factors, such as depression, headaches and poor sleep habits, resulted in increased likelihood of female workers filing claims in the future.
Common causes of workplace injuries among women include:
- Prolonged use of keyboards or other repetitive tasks (carpal tunnel syndrome)
- Other use of industrial, commercial, or office equipment
- Industrial and commercial vehicle injuries
- Exposure to workplace chemicals
- Slips, trips and falls
- Sexual harassment
In the BU study, researchers said women with lost-time occupational injuries were 92 percent more likely to die from suicide and 193 percent more likely to die from drug-related causes. Men who had had a lost-time workplace injury were 72 percent more likely to die from suicide and 29 percent more likely to die from drug-related causes. These men also had increased rates of death from cardiovascular diseases.
Opioid Abuse and Overdoses in Oklahoma
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says there were 388 overdose deaths involving opioids in Oklahoma in 2017 — a rate of 10.2 deaths per 100,000 persons, which is lower than the national rate of 14.6 deaths per 100,000 persons. Deaths involving prescription opioids declined by more than 43 percent, from 444 in 2012 to 251 deaths in 2017.
Oklahoma providers wrote 88.1 opioid prescriptions for every 100 persons in 2017, a 30 percent decline since 2012, when the rate was 127 opioid prescriptions per 100 persons.
Deaths involving synthetic opioids (mainly fentanyl) in Oklahoma have remained steady since 2010, with 102 deaths reported in 2017. Fatal overdoses involving heroin increased more than threefold from 17 deaths in 2011 to 61 deaths in 2017.
Unfortunately, Oklahoma’s suicide rate is among the highest in the nation. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention ranks the state as 13th in the nation based on 2017 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It says 756 suicides in Oklahoma equate to 19.09 per 100,000 population, far higher than the national rate of 14 per 100,000 population.
The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services says from 2012 to 2016 more than 3,600 Oklahomans died from suicide, a rate of 21.7 per 100,000 population. More Oklahomans die from suicide than motor vehicle crashes and suicides are almost three times more frequent than homicides, the state says.
In July, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a new grant program to help women affected by the opioid crisis re-enter the workforce. The Re-Employment, Support, and Training for the Opioid-Related Epidemic (RESTORE) grant will award $2.5 million to organizations to provide employment-focused services to women.
Approximately four to eight grants will go to state governments, Indian/Native American Tribal governments or organizations, state or local workforce development boards, or nonprofit organizations that apply by August 23.
What Employers Can Do To Keep Workers Safe
Under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers have a responsibility to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that have caused or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.
Employers have multiple requirements under the law, which include a responsibility to:
- Examine workplace conditions to make sure they conform to applicable OSHA standards.
- Make sure employees have and use safe tools and equipment and properly maintain this equipment.
- Use color codes, posters, labels or signs to warn employees of potential hazards.
- Establish or update operating procedures and communicate them so that employees follow safety and health requirements.
- Provide safety training in a language and vocabulary workers can understand.
- Post, at a prominent location within the workplace, the OSHA poster (or the state-plan equivalent) informing employees of their rights and responsibilities.
- Not discriminate against employees who exercise their rights under the OSH Act, including reporting workplaces in violation of OSHA standards.
In Oklahoma, the OK Department of Labor’s Safety and Health Consultation programs are a free and confidential service designed to help small, private-sector Oklahoma employers understand and comply with OSHA standards. State consultants do not fine or cite employers for safety or health hazards when they visit to examine practices and make suggestions for improvements at worksites.
Contact Oklahoma Workplace Injury Lawyer
The experienced Oklahoma workers’ compensation attorneys at Ryan Bisher Ryan & Simons have helped many injured workers obtain the full workers’ compensation benefits needed to move forward with their lives after serious workplace injuries. Our attorneys can review the details of your accident and discuss your legal options to pursue workers’ compensation benefits. Our dedicated Oklahoma City attorneys have handled thousands of workers’ compensation claims and have an extensive knowledge of Oklahoma workers’ compensation law. Contact Ryan Bisher Ryan & Simons to arrange your free initial consultation.