Posted on May 17, 2019 in Workers Compensation
Workplace fatalities are a tragic reality in the United States. In 2017, an average of 14 worker deaths were reported every single day. One factor that may be responsible for a number of these deaths is the use of alcohol and/or other drugs, such as opioids, that impair perception and increase the risk of work accidents. In 2015, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census identified opioid-related deaths in the workplace as higher than any previous years.
During these same recent years, a change in drug use laws has happened in a number of states. Use of medicinal marijuana, and in some instances, use of recreational marijuana, has been legalized. Enough time has passed since the laws changed to begin studying trends.
A recent study by economists from the University of Colorado and others compared the incidence of workplace fatalities in states before and after they adopted laws permitting the use of medical marijuana. The study noted a significant decrease from the expected number of fatal workplace injuries for the age group of 25 to 44-year-old workers. The rate plummeted by an average of nearly 20 percent.
Interestingly, the association between legalizing medical marijuana and reductions in workplace fatalities grew stronger over time. Five years after legalization, there was a 33.7 percent reduction in the expected number of workplace fatalities.
The investigators opined that a possible reason for the decline could be workers substituting use of medical marijuana for more dangerous drugs such as alcohol and opioids. They note that use of alcohol is associated with an increase in risk of injury. Similarly, opioid use is known to slow reflexes and impair thinking. The authors went on to suggest that enactment of laws to legalize medical marijuana could theoretically make workplaces safer.
Lab Findings Support Hypothesis
A national testing laboratory, Quest Diagnostics, reported that it has detected an increased use of marijuana among U.S. workers over the past several years. During this same time period, the lab also found that drug test results for opioids peaked in 2015 and has declined since then. This finding lends support to the interpretation of the study performed by the economists.
It is important to note that the study showed a correlation between legalizing use of medical marijuana and a reduced incidence of workplace fatalities. There is a significant difference between correlation and causation. The findings of the study did not prove any causal link between legalizing use of marijuana and the reduced number of workplace fatalities.
Workers’ Compensation Cases
Workers’ compensation is a no-fault insurance program that exists in different forms in every state. Although it is unwise and potentially dangerous to work while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, an employer cannot disqualify an employee who has been injured on the job from receiving benefits for use of alcohol or drugs. However, an employer may be able to require drug testing after a workplace injury in some instances.