OHS Canada Magazine

New digital tool addresses opioid and other substance-related harms in labour-intensive industries

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May 27, 2024
By OHS Canada

Health & Safety

Credit: Digital Public Square

While employees working in the trades, including construction and other labour-intensive industries, continue to experience increased challenges with substance use, Toronto-based organization Digital Public Square is taking action via technology.

The organization has introduced Level Up, an interactive digital tool providing education, links to support services, and other resources for communities at greater risk of substance-related harms.

Level Up was designed based on continuous national research and engagement with those working on the industries’ frontlines, including employees, employers, and industry organizations. The tool aims to build awareness for the increased risk of substance-related harms within labour-intensive industries, including the dangers stemming from the toxic drug supply, while also sharing links to various recovery and other types of support resources. 

Digital Public Square’s research found the risk of opioid harms in labour-intensive industries stems from multiple reinforcing factors. These include the physically demanding nature of the work, and pain and injuries resulting from the nature of their job; loneliness, particularly when working on sites away from family and support networks; and financial incentive to work long hours in a difficult economy where costs of living nation-wide are on the rise, resulting in a greater inclination to decompress after long days on the job.

Despite the prevalence of substance use in labour-intensive industries, 18 per cent of those surveyed said they were unsure about resources and assistance offered by their employer.


Industry sources expressed the importance of an environment where workers feel protected from job loss and retribution, as 44 per cent of employees surveyed would feel uncomfortable discussing substance use with colleagues, and 57 per cent would feel uncomfortable discussing the topic with their employer.

This emphasizes the significant workplace stigma that results in fear of retribution, such as termination, if employees come forward for help.

One of the goals of the Level Up project is to overcome the deadly stigma associated with substance use. In the first six months of 2023, there were, on average, 22 opioid-related deaths per day across the country.

“We feel that Level Up’s most significant benefits for Canada’s labour-intensive industries include opportunities to raise awareness about potential substance harms, while providing access to resources and support services, privately, and without judgment,” says Effie Argyropoulos, Digital Public Square’s Level Up project lead. “We would like to see Canadian employers incorporate Level Up into staff onboarding and health and safety programming.”

Part of the organization’s research, executed in various Canadian provinces, and totaling close to 1,000 industry participants, included providing participants with a prototype of Level Up. Sources felt that the most significant benefits of the tool included the quick and helpful way to gather information on substances, an alternative way to direct coworkers to a resource that could be helpful, and the benefit for onboarding and training purposes.

Level Up is currently available as a publicly accessible tool. The baseline version of the tool was developed with the support of Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program.

As Digital Public Square develops enhanced versions of the tool with content more extensively tailored to specific industries, costs may be associated with the use of specialized versions of the technology.

In the coming weeks, the tool will also be expanded to include a variety of resources and supports that suit various paths to wellness.

Visit levelupcanada.com to learn more.


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