Painkillers essential part of many construction workers’ days, study finds

Half of construction workers over 35 take pain-killing medicine in order to get through the workday

Working in the construction industry means facing constant pain in the back, shoulders, arms and many older tradesmen are increasingly resorting to painkillers in order to get through the day. 

A survey compiled by Jeppe Zielinski Nguyen Ajslev, in connection with his doctoral dissertation at Roskilde University, showed that at seven out of eight construction sites workers fought through work-related pain in order to live up to acceptable norms of what a good construction worker was.

For many, painkillers are required. Half of workers over 35 reported taking pain killers.

Ajslev, in collaboration with occupational health experts, interviewed 32 construction workers in Copenhagen and northern Zealand.

“It varies from a couple times a week to a couple times a month,” Ajslev told weekly newsletter Ugebrevet A4. “They said they take medicine either to kick-start their bodies in the mornings or at night when they get home. They take medicine in order to bear it.”

The 32 workers, who represent four trade groups – bricklayers, carpenters, scaffolding workers and builders – said that they took anything from over-the-counter painkillers to prescription arthritis medicine.

“People have pain in the knees and in their backs and they also have tendonitis. Many of the older workers I spoke with have pain in their lower backs and some feel pain in their shoulders and arms,” Ajslev said.

According to Ulrik Spannow, an occupatinal health specialist with construction union confederation BAT-kartellet, the increasing use of painkillers was a new trend.

“The findings are important and interesting because the use of painkillers is a clear sign that there is something going on that shouldn’t be: they are enduring pain,” Spannow told Ugebrevet A4. “We have to come up with ways to deal with this issue and we must address it on the work sites with companies that hire construction workers.”

The goal of the research was to raise awareness about the issue and reduce accident rates, as well as slow the widespread attrition that has been a hallmark of the construction industry for years.

“We see office workers reduce their pain by using an elastic band for ten minutes, three times a week,” Mette Møller Nielsen, the head of occupational health for construction employers' association Dansk Byggeri, told Ugebrevet A4. “We need something similar in the construction industry. We need to come up with solutions in order to get people off pain-killing medicine.”

The research was compiled with the help of construction industry unions and employers.

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