OHS Canada Magazine

‘A scary thing’: New tool offers data, information on opioids in the workplace

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January 10, 2024
By Todd Humber

Health & Safety opioids substance abuse

Dr. Nancy Carnide (left) is a scientist at the Institute for Work & Health. Dr. Jeavana Sritharan is a Scientist at the Occupational Cancer Research Centre (OCRC) based at Ontario Health.

Opioids in the workplace can be a sensitive issue that employers and leaders may not be comfortable addressing head on, according to Nancy Carnide, a scientist at the Institute for Work & Health (IWH).

“They may not know how to, and it’s a sort of a scary thing,” she said. “But workplaces need to start to think about their potential role, not just in contributing to the crisis but also how they may be able to act as a prevention piece.”

With that in mind, IWH has teamed up with the Occupational Cancer Research Centre (OCRC) to create the “Opioids and Work Data Tool.” It offers insightful data and information on opioid-related harms among workers. It’s an interactive tool, featuring dashboards, that is designed to close the knowledge gap on the extent to which the opioid crisis is affecting the working population, said Carnide.

The tool uses data from the Occupational Disease Surveillance System (ODSS), encompassing about 1.7 million Ontario workers with accepted lost-time workers’ compensation claims from 1983 to 2019. It provides customizable graphs based on emergency department and hospitalization records from 2006 to 2022, offering insights into poisonings, mental and behavioral disorders, and adverse reactions among workers.

Concerning statistics

Between 2015 and 2021, there was a 120% increase in the number of visits to emergency departments by workers in Ontario. (Rising from a rate of 47.4 per 100,000 to 189.9 per 100,000 in that five-year stretch.)


The occupations at highest risk, looking at data from 2006 to 2022, are:

  • Construction Trades (123.1 per 100,000)
  • Materials handling (93)
  • Machining (84.7)
  • Farming, horticultural and animal husbandry (83.5)
  • Forest & Logging (81.1).

This data details occupation, industry, age, sex, and health region of affected workers, although it does not infer direct connections between work-related injuries or illnesses and opioid harms.

A significant aspect of the tool’s findings relates to the patterns of opioid-related harms in physically demanding jobs, such as construction.

“So when you look at the highest rates of opioid harms, for example, poisonings, you tend to see them in what we would typically think of as these very physically demanding jobs,” Carnide said. These findings align with U.S. data, indicating a potential link between workplace injuries, chronic pain, and subsequent opioid use, she said.

How can the tool be used?

The tool aims to facilitate a comprehensive understanding of the opioid crisis within the occupational context, aiding various stakeholders including workplaces, public health professionals, and policymakers.

Jeavana Sritharan, a scientist at the Occupational Cancer Research Centre (OCRC) based at Ontario Health, said the biggest goal with the tool is awareness of opioid-related harms.

“Not just targeting one group, not just the employers, but also the workers themselves can go in and explore the tool,” she said. “We want to spark conversations in the workplace and among the different system partners and users that we have.”

By providing data-driven insights, the goal is to initiate preventive actions and harm reduction activities in vulnerable occupational groups, she said. Moreover, its interactive and user-friendly design, complete with downloadable graphs and a User Guide, makes it accessible for diverse audiences, according to the website.

“Maybe, hopefully, this will sort of spark some awareness that this could be an issue in their particular industry,” said Carnide.

For more information about the tool, visit https://opioidsandwork.ca/

Keynote speakers at Opioids in the Workplace

Carnide and Sritharan are presenting the opening keynote session at Opioids in the Workplace, a special live virtual discussion taking place on Jan. 31, 2024. It is being presented by Talent Canada and OHS Canada, the leading workplace media brands in the country.

It features a number of presentations and panel discussions to equip senior business leaders, HR and safety professionals with practical information and resources to deal with substance abuse disorders.

For more information, and to register, visit https://www.talentcanada.ca/virtual-events/opioids-in-the-workplace/


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