This study attempts to determine whether a diagnosis of substance abuse among construction laborers is associated with an increased risk of work-related injuries. Records for construction laborers in Washington State who were covered by health insurance through the local union were matched against workers' compensation records in the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. Using the health insurance records, we identified those who had a diagnosis of substance abuse during the two-year period 1990-1991. Using the workers' compensation records, we were then able to compare injury rates for those with substance abuse diagnoses with the rates for those without such diagnoses. The total cohort consisted of 7,895 laborers. Among the 422 who had a substance abuse diagnosis, the rate of time-loss injuries per 100 full-time equivalent workers was 15.1, compared with 10.9 among the remainder of the cohort. Most of the difference appeared in the 25-34-year age group, in which the rate of injury per 100 full-time equivalent workers was 23.6 for substance abusers, compared with a rate of 12.2 for non-substance abusers, for a statistically significant relative risk of 1.93. The study suggests that younger workers might be an appropriate target for interventions aimed at reducing the level of substance abuse as a way of preventing injuries on the job. Studies by others have indicated some degree of success in this direction through the use of employee assistance programs in which the worker is referred to specific programs or providers for treatment. The state legislature in Washington has recently passed legislation providing incentives for the use of employee assistance programs. More effort is needed, however, to evaluate the effectiveness of such programs.
From The Center to Protect Workers' Rights, Washington, DC (Dr Pollack, Ms Chowdhury); the Occupational Epidemiology and Health Outcomes Program, Department of Environmental Health, University of Washington School of Public Health, Seattle, Wash. (Dr Franklin, Ms Fulton-Kehoe); and the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, Olympia, Wash. (Dr Franklin).
Address correspondence to: Earl S. Pollack, ScD, Center to Protect Workers' Rights, 111 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001.