Study Ties Alcohol Abuse, Increased Work-Related Injuries Among Construction Laborers Who are 25 to 34 years-old

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CPWR - The Center for Construction Research and Training

Summary Statement

Provides statistics on substance abuse among young laborers and the impact on work-related injuries.
May 1998

Younger laborers who have been treated for substance abuse have a nearly doubled risk of serious injury on the job compared with non-abusers, a study has found. Laborers 25 to 34 years old who had been treated for substance abuse had a time-loss injury rate of 23.6 per 100 full-time-equivalent workers (FTEs),compared with a rate of 12.2 for non-substance abusers of the same age. For laborers in other age groups, there was little difference in serious-injury rates between substance abusers and non-abusers. Most of the substance abuse (85%) involved alcohol. The findings suggest that substance-abuse prevention programs should be targeted to younger workers.

Earl Pollack and Risana Chowdhury of CPWR – Center for Construction Research and Training analyzed data from Washington state for 1990 and 1991, with Gary Franklin and Deborah Fulton-Kehoe of the University of Washington. The researchers compared union health-insurance records for construction laborers and workers' compensation records in the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. The study covered only serious injuries, known as time-loss injuries, about 1/3 of injuries reported to workers' comp.

The study, Risk of Job-Related Injury among Construction Laborers with a Diagnosis of Substance Abuse, covered 7,895 laborers, of whom 422 were diagnosed with a substance-abuse problem in 1990 or 1991.

The difference between substance abusers and nonsubstance abusers likely is understated here. Injuries were counted as related to substance abuse only after substance abuse was diagnosed, yet 1/3 of the substance abusers' work-related injuries occurred before a diagnosis. The study counted only work on union jobs and only substance abuse treated in a program paid by union health insurance. Also, some workers who had a substance-abuse problem might not have gotten treatment.

Nationally, injury rates for all industry have been declining. For construction in 1991, the rate of injuries with days away from work was 5.5 per 100 FTEs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Because some construction workers work less than full time at construction, researchers use FTEs (defined as 2,000 hours per year) to measure injury rates.