How We Die in America

The National Safety Council (NSC) has released its annual “Injury Facts”  report.   This excellent statistical  snapshot of how Americans are hurt or killed in the country has been produced for the last 90 years, which means it is the authoritative record of trends over time.

First, the good news for safety professionals; Your work is paying off.   Work-related fatalities fell by seven percent between 2011 and 2012.   The not so good news – just about every other category of fatality increased.

The most shocking statistic – Poisoning is the leading cause of unintentional death for Americans between 25 and 64 and half of those fatalities involve drug overdoses.   Experts point the finger at opioids like Oxycontin as a leading culprits, especially with mixed with alcohol, but a  quick Google search turns up motor fatalities linked to drugs like Xanax, Tramadol and Ambien.

NSC did an analysis over time and found that, 50 years ago, unintentional drug overdoses were a leading killer of small children.   Then came safety caps and tamper-proof packaging and the number of children dying dropped.    About 20 years ago, drug overdoses started to climb in adults and it shows no sign of slowing down.  For those of us who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s hearing about the dangers of drugs, there is an irony here.   The drugs we heard about were  illegal drugs – marijuana, cocaine, heroin.   The drugs that are killing people today are produced by legal manufacturers and may well have been prescribed by a doctor.

What does this mean in the workplace?   It means that we need to recognize that prescription drugs are a part of every facet of our society including the workplace.   We tend to focus our drug programs on what a worker was drinking or smoking.   We may need to pivot and look more at how we identify impairment, regardless of the drug or drink.   We need to make sure our supervisors and managers know how to recognize when a worker is impaired before something goes wrong and to teach workers that just having a prescription does not mean that they have a license to work under its influence.

You can view a webinar on the 2014 NSC injury report here.

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