Preventing injury and managing pain to reduce opioid use

Preventing injury and managing pain to reduce opioid use.

Policies and practices that focus on preventing, understanding, and managing pain can reduce the risk factors for OUD and overdose. They can also improve business operations and morale.

Workplace health and safety programs are most effective when they foster a proactive “find and fix” approach:

  1. Identifying workplace hazards and risks, and
  2. Correcting them before they can cause injury or illness.

Workplace Pain: An Overview

  • Pain impacts all people and can be emotional, physical, or social.
  • For some, pain may be caused by an injury at the workplace.
  • Workers whose jobs require them to lift or move heavy objects may experience pain associated with those tasks.
  • Likewise, the activity may trigger an underlying condition or previous non-work injury.
  • For others, workplace pressures can contribute to chronic illness, other medical conditions, and personal factors that cause pain.
  • The experience of pain is unique to each person, and is influenced by things like trauma, genetics, and environmental factors.

Employers have an obligation to provide a safe work environment – one that minimizes the risk of injury at work. But they also have an opportunity to be good stewards of worker health, wellness, and well-being. By understanding all of the factors that contribute to pain, employers can shape a positive workplace culture around pain prevention and management.

What is “culture” in the workplace?

Workplace culture is the collection of attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that make up the everyday environment at work. The idea that a person is weak or less valuable if they admit to being in pain – or if they take time off when they’re sick or injured – is an example of negative workplace culture that can contribute to OUD.

Pain prevention starts with accident and injury prevention

A prevention-based workplace starts with a culture of responsibility and respect, where everyone contributes to a positive, safe work environment. That culture, in turn, supports the policies and practices that help reduce the likelihood of injury, pain, and opioid use.

Create plans to eliminate, prevent, or reduce exposure to hazards

  • Conduct hazard assessments and reduce risks
  • Develop and implement safety protocols
  • Offer relevant health and safety training for employees
  • Implement safety committees

Enact policies to minimize tasks that lead to pain and injury

  • Provide ergonomically designed equipment
  • Use methods and techniques that maximize safety

Sustain a culture of trust and respect

  • Ensure that private information stays confidential
  • Strengthen relationships between management and employees
  • Develop and maintain recovery supportive workplace initiatives

Encouraging ergonomics: A success story

See how Community Servings used the MDPH’s Working on Wellness program to create a workplace environment that uses an ergonomic approach to reduce the risk of stress and injury.

How workplace culture plays a role in successful prevention programs

As they start to create prevention-focused policies and practices, employers should consider the following three elements of their workplace culture. They help make prevention efforts more likely to succeed:


Health and safety programs work best when all levels of management show their buy-in, with a focus on removing obstacles to workplace health and safety.


Working in partnership with leaders, colleagues, and other employees builds trust, enhances communication, and can lead to other business improvements.


By collecting and analyzing data from their workplace’s injuries, illnesses, and near-miss events, organizations can focus more clearly on workplace injury prevention.

The risk of inaction on workplace pain and injury

Losing employees to injury or illness, even for a short time, can be disruptive and costly – to the employer as well as the workers and their families. It can also damage workplace morale, productivity, turnover, and reputation.

Pain prevention is financially responsible.

The real cost of substance use to employers

Workplace pain is a human concern first and foremost, but it also has practical implications. Pain, injury, and OUD can have a negative impact on an employer’s bottom line. The National Safety Council has developed a simple calculator that can help employers identify the potential fiscal impact of substance use on their business. For some, understanding the dollars may help in prioritizing the necessary policies, practices, and cultural shifts.

Opioid use prevention when pain or injury happens

Even in a workplace with robust policies and practices around prevention, there may still be accidents or events that lead to injury. And many workers will end up experiencing pain for different reasons.

For employers:

Five steps to help workers heal from pain or injury

Employers can take an active role in helping employees heal from an injury or manage their pain:

  1. Provide health insurance that covers the treatment and management of pain, including physical therapy, chiropractor, and other alternatives to opioids.
  2. Provide adequate paid time off to heal from injury or manage pain by using one or more of the recommended opioid alternatives.
  3. Train workers on how to access health and legal benefits, including the Massachusetts Paid Family Medical Leave (PFML), federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), or accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  4. Ensure that human resources personnel are prepared to help employees navigate their benefits, processes, and systems.
  5. Actively promote a workplace culture that encourages workers to take time to heal from injuries or take a break if they’re in pain – without fear of negative consequences.

These actions don’t just help reduce the use of opioids. They support workers in actually getting the relief those alternative treatments can provide.


Alternative strategies for managing injury and pain

Pain is a message from the body and brain that something is wrong and needs healing. There are highly effective alternatives to opioids, and workers should always consult with their medical professional to identify treatment options for pain. Those alternatives may include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Counseling and psychotherapy
  • Evaluation by a pain management clinic
  • Massage therapy
  • Mindfulness practice
  • Over-the-counter medications
  • Physical therapy