WATCH: Construction workers are vulnerable to B.C.?s deadly overdose epidemic. It’s prompting organizations representing them to work with Island health officials to educate them. Isabelle Raghem reports.
More than 38,000 people work in the construction sector on Vancouver Island. A group that may be vulnerable to a deadly epidemic in the province.
“There’s a sentiment that the opioid crisis is overtaking the construction industry,” says Rory Kulmala, CEO of the Vancouver Island Construction Association.
Officials in the Fraser region say a disproportionate number of those overdosing are people employed in trades. Island Health says while this may the be the case here too, they simply don’t have the data to prove it.
“We can’t just assume that because we don’t hear about it it doesn’t exist,” says Kulmala.
Kulmala also added that if medical professionals feel they are seeing a higher prevalence of tradespeople in regard to opioid overdoses, this may simply be a factor of workforce composition.
It’s a message echoed by Vancouver Island Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Stanwick, who say the working class is suffering in silence.
“It’s the stigma they don’t want to be known as a user and certainly in some professions, you get a lot less sympathy then you do for type two diabetes or lung diseases,” Stanwick said.
According to the latest numbers from the B.C. Coroners Office, almost three out of every four deaths involved people between the ages of 30 and 59 years. And four out of five who died were male.
Kulmala says while he doesn’t want to define all workers, the group of men aged between 30 and 59 represents a big chunk of trade workers.
“I think by extension there is a likelihood that people likely to suffer from an opioid crisis could come from the construction industry,” Kulmala said.
He adds the physical nature of the work and the increased risk of injury may also play a role.
“There has been a correlation drawn between people who are on painkillers, then turning to opioids.”
The Vancouver Island Construction Association asked their members in September if their company had been affected by the crisis.
While only 22 per cent said they had been affected, the association says that doesn’t mean they should sit back and do nothing. Kulmala says he wants to be proactive.
“As a worker, or as a supervisor, if you have suspicions we want to be able to say here’s how you can deal with that,” Kulmala said.
That’s why the Vancouver Island Construction Association is working with Island Health to provide several workshops in November to raise awareness and educate members.
Kulmala says information about those workshops will be posted the week of Oct. 16 on their website.
Editors Note (Oct. 17): An earlier version of this story did not mention the Vancouver Island Construction Association trades are not seeing a disproportionate impact to its demographic and is not being overtaken. The association also acknowledges there is a social problem with opioids and construction workers could be susceptible.It added the initiative with the workshops are meant to be proactive in their efforts to help vulnerable people who may come from the construction sector. CHEK News regrets the error.