In 2010, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) partnered with the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to begin studying a significant public health problem in the U.S. – chronic pain. Through the creation of the National Pain Strategy, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) hopes to help other organizations and health care providers better understand, prevent and treat chronic pain.
As an organization whose mission includes improving the health and safety of LIUNA members on the job, the LHSFNA took an interest in the draft report of the National Pain Strategy, which was recently available for public comment.
After reviewing the report’s conclusions, LHSFNA staff members Scott Schneider, Director of the Occupational Safety and Health Division, and Jamie Becker, Associate Director of the Health Promotion Division, submitted feedback on behalf of the Fund.
“Chronic pain is an enormous problem in America,” says Becker. “The report emphasizes improving the delivery of health care and clinical practice as a way to address pain. These are important issues, but more attention should be given to preventing such chronic pain in the first place.”
Work is a major contributing factor when it comes to chronic pain. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in 2013, more than 327,000 workers lost time at work because of musculoskeletal sprains, strains or tears, while another 157,000 lost work time due to soreness or pain. With ergonomic hazards causing about one third of all work-related injuries, there’s little doubt that many of these injuries could have been prevented through improvements in work practices.
“Much of our feedback focused on preventing chronic pain by finding its root causes in the work environment,” says Schneider. “We know that work contributes significantly to conditions that cause chronic pain and that ergonomic changes are the most successful and cost-effective way to reduce chronic pain. This includes existing chronic pain that either persists or is worsened by work conditions.”
In addition to recommending that the National Pain Strategy include a section about the role of the workplace in creating chronic pain, the Fund made several other specific suggestions to aid in the prevention and management of workplace-induced pain, including:
- Developing strategies to reduce chronic pain for workers at increased risk because of where they live or work
- Making use of the large amount of research available today on injury prevention in the workplace from stakeholders including NIOSH, OSHA, labor unions and trade associations
- Acknowledging the barriers some workers face in reporting work-related pain and receiving assistance with pain management
Chronic pain puts a substantial economic burden on workers and their families. It also contributes to a loss of productivity for employers, especially in industries with physically demanding jobs such as construction. If workers return to work prematurely, acute and chronic pain can interfere with them making a full and timely recovery.
“Our goal at the Fund is to have a hand in forming a strategy that takes into account the very real risks workers face on the job,” says Schneider. “Both LIUNA members and signatory contractors stand to benefit from a plan that puts its primary focus on pain prevention.”