Recent News


By Katharine Webster

Workplace conditions can contribute to or help prevent opioid addiction – and employers and unions can play a vital role in supporting people in recovery, experts told community members at a regional forum held at the university.
Three-quarters of people using opioids are working, and many become addicted because of job-related injuries and stress, said Joseph Hughes, head of the worker education and training branch of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).
“When most people think of opioid addiction, they think of someone who is hungry and homeless, living under an overpass – but that’s only the end of a long chain of addiction that starts at home for breadwinners with families,” Hughes told researchers and representatives of industry, labor unions and nonprofits from around New England.
“How to break that chain is the challenge we face today. The hope is that our training with UMass Lowell and others can start this conversation about addiction and mental health in the workplace,” he said.
Joseph Hughes, chief of the worker education and training branch of NIESH, speaks at UMass Lowell
Joseph Hughes, chief of NIEHS’s worker education and training branch, spoke at the community meeting. (Photo by Neil Hawley)
The community meeting and an intensive training workshop that followed it represent the beginning of a government effort to tackle the opioid crisis in the context of worker health and workplace safety. Both events were hosted by The New England Consortium, a worker health and safety training center in the university’s College of Health Sciences that is funded by grants from the federal agency.
Economics Research Prof. David Turcotte, principal investigator for The New England Consortium, Dean of Health Sciences Shortie McKinney and Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation Julie Chen all encouraged participants to use the university as a resource for research and training.
“We know you’re working with this issue every day,” Chen said. “We want to be right there with you as a partner in your efforts.”
Hughes cited groundbreaking research at the university and in Massachusetts as the reason UMass Lowell was selected as one of four sites nationwide to pilot NIEHS’s new six-hour training on how to prevent and respond to opioid addiction in the workplace. Several of The New England Consortium’s trainers participated so that they can offer the training to employers and labor unions around New England.
The research Hughes cited includes Public Health Asst. Prof. Angela Wangari Walter’s work assessing opioid use disorders and barriers to treatment among fishing industry workers in New England.  (photo by Neil Hawley)
Asst. Prof. of Public Health Angela Wangari-Walter spoke at a community stakeholders forum on opioid use disorders in the workplace

It also includes two other major studies in Massachusetts. One looked at which industries have the highest rates of addiction. The other looked at the correlation between workplace injuries and suicide, whether by overdose or other means. A key finding: Construction workers in Massachusetts are six times more likely to die of an overdose than the average worker.

Many workers who have physically demanding jobs, including nurses and construction workers, become addicted after they are prescribed opioids for pain relief, said Jonathan Rosen, who helped develop the training and led it.
“Occupational stress and injuries can lead to addiction,” he said.
On the other hand, he said, the workplace and labor unions can provide vital support and motivation to help workers in recovery. Good jobs provide not only a paycheck, but also stability, structure, a sense of purpose and identity, and social support for people struggling with opioid use disorder and mental health issues.
“One of the worst things you can do to a person struggling with addiction is to fire them,” Rosen said.
UMass Lowell College of Health Sciences Dean Shortie McKinnie and Economics Research Prof. David Turcotte at a community stakeholders meeting on opioids and the workplace
College of Health Sciences Dean Shortie McKinney invited employers, unions and nonprofits to use the university as a resource for research and training. With Economics Research Prof. David Turcotte. (Photo by Neil Hawley)
In the training, Rosen urged employers to take steps to improve worker safety. He also urged participants to use a peer support model to help workers. Some unions in Massachusetts are already doing that, with help from the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH).
U.S. Ironworkers Local 7, the Massachusetts Nurses Association and Teamsters Local 25 all created programs to assist their members, said MassCOSH Executive Director Jodi Sugerman-Brozan. Physical injuries and job-related stress are major problems in all three industries, but there’s no one-size-fits-all solution because every profession faces different work conditions, she said.
In most professions, though, the stigma surrounding addiction and mental health issues is a major barrier to seeking help, and that only increases when employees also face a zero-tolerance policy at work and a realistic fear that they will lose their jobs, Sugerman-Brozan said.
“A key message is that we should work hard to reduce the stigma for seeking treatment,” she said. “We need higher-level policy changes as well.”


CSEA Peer Training for Confined Space Saves Lives

Peer Trainers John Lefebvre and Nik McKay from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation at Ray Brook have been providing annual Confined Space Entry training since their train-the-trainer-course in 2009.  They provide compliance training for those who have not previously had the course and refresher training to all affected employees.

They utilize their refresher training to also perform their required annual review and listen to workers about any potential issues and solutions that arose during entries.  Changes to spaces from weather related issues and spaces that have changed configuration due to engineering controls are also discussed.

This year they looked back on ten years of entries, finding 5 instances where their air monitors detected deadly atmospheres, which included explosive and oxygen deficient atmospheres as well as high levels of hydrogen sulfide.

“That is not only 5 lives that were saved but potentially 10+ lives since so many confined space fatalities are not just the entrants but the would be rescuers that enter to try to save them and also succumb to the invisible toxic gases.” Peer Trainer, John Lefebvre

“The CSEA Peer Trainer Program for Confined Spaces has been a huge success. Bottomline is that proper training and use of confined space monitors and retrieval systems do save lives!”– Peer Trainer and Safety and Health Committee Chairman Nik McKay

CSEA Deployed for Flooding Under New York’s Emergency Management Operations Protocol

For the second time in three years, there has been record flooding along the southern shore of Lake Ontario and the tributaries of the St. Lawrence River. Governor Cuomo activated the State’s Emergency Management Operations Protocol, deploying several CSEA members employed by state agencies that are skilled support personnel. 

Workers from the Genesee Region of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation were deployed and were ready for the hazards they faced thanks to training received under CSEA’s Peer Trainer Program over the past 12 years.  Regional Safety Manager and Peer Trainer A.J. Sporleder oversaw their safety operations and ensured the safety of the responding workers.

 “I guess flood mitigation work has become the new normal,” said CSEA member and Electrician John Wolfer who has worked for the Genesee State Parks Region for 14 years. “We send workers where they need to go if there is a demand. If we need people at Hamlin Beach State Park, we’ll send a crew from Letchworth State Park. We have to remain flexible. That is our job”.

CSEA Members from Monroe County also faced challenges of flooding from Lake Ontario including mitigating toxins like E.Coli and algae.  Erosion and flooding damaged roadways and the infrastructure underneath increasing the volume of road work and lane closures for pipe repair under roadways. CSEA provided Work Zone All Hazards training to give them specified training on temporary traffic control in emergency situations, heavy equipment use and more information on the hazards of flood waters and the toxins within.

“We have learned a lot on how to manage and move water so there are no interruptions of service here atthe park. We have seen this before, so now we know how to work together with other municipalities to make sure the job gets done.” Monroe County Ontario Beach Park Supervisor, Dylan Crary