BCSSA initiates study into substance use in construction industry

Aug 26, 2021

In July of this year, the board of directors of the BC Construction Safety Alliance (BCCSA) approved a project to examine the impact of alcohol and other drugs (AOD) on the organization’s members across British Columbia.

According to the executive director Mike McKenna, BCCSA will provide funding and fiduciary oversight for the initiative, in addition to “construction industry intelligence and connectivity.”

The project will be run by a team of four members from the Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction (CARMHA) at Simon Fraser University (SFU). The goal of the study is to identify the main issues, analyze data, conduct literature research and interviews and develop a blueprint that will address the challenges of AOD in construction.

“We hope to get the project going this summer,” said McKenna in his interview with the Journal of Commerce. “The data and industry intelligence that we gather will be helpful to many people in construction.”

AOD use, misuse and abuse has been reported to affect the construction industry in different ways, including incidents and injuries, which have been demonstrated to be disproportionately high among construction workers and are associated with the effects of AOD abuse.

“As they get older, many of them [construction workers] accumulate not just the normal aches and pains of aging, but also the effect of workplace injuries and wear and tear. Many of them start popping pills to help them get through the day.”

Executive Director of BCCSA, Mike McKenna

Compared to workers in other industries, construction workers have relatively more substance use disorders, with apprentices and young workers displaying a particularly high risk.

The research project will examine all forms of substance use, extending the work the alliance has done to address opioid-related risks. “We know all the symptoms of AOD abuse, and many potential causes have been mooted,” said McKenna. “For example, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, only about one-quarter of Canadian employees feel comfortable talking about mental health concerns with their employers.” McKenna added that many workers lead “a grim, nose-to-the-grindstone existence.”

The idea for the BCCSA-CARMHA research project originated from a conversation between McKenna and Dr. Paul Farnan, a Vancouver physician who specializes in occupational and addiction medicine.

“There’s much incorrect information floating around and accepted uncritically about the B.C. construction industry and substance use. We need good, evidence-based research on AOD with which BCCSA can develop policies that address the problem and focus on a solution.”

Dr. Paul Farnan, Vancouver physician

Julian Somers, an SFU clinical psychologist and director of CARMHA, said that the project will identify the main areas of AOD risk in construction in B.C. and how they differ by location, age and occupation. “We’ll speak to a variety of people with different perspectives – construction workers, employers, safety officers, job finders. We expect to interview over 100 individuals,” said Somers.

In addition, the BCCSA-CARMHA project will be joining a similar B.C. initiative called the Tailgate Toolkit Project (TTP), which is delivered by the Vancouver Island Construction Association (VICA) in partnership with Vancouver Island Health Authority, and is aimed at combating overdoses on the Island.