Columbus, Ohio — First responders in industrial settings face special risks when they come across employees suffering from opioid abuse or overdose, according to Wesley Maertz, technical safety specialist at W.W. Grainger Inc.
In a presentation during the Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors' Environmental Health and Safety Summit in Columbus, Maertz spelled out how first responders can identify opioid abuse and protect themselves.
"As a first responder, you arrive at the scene, somebody's down. It may be a medical condition. You've got to do a quick assessment of what's going on," he said. Once you identify the risk, you know how to protect yourself.
Maertz told conference attendees that 75 percent of adults with drug abuse problems are members of the workforce. He told MAPP conference attendees they need to be aware of opioids, including pain pills, heroin and fully synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Opioids are responsible for two-thirds of all overdose deaths.
"They're all like us. They're all working, 40, 50, 60 hours a week, making a living. But outside, I got a drug problem. What does that mean to you? They're in the workplace. They're there. It's at your doorstep," Maertz said. "You can't ignore it. You can't say, 'Well, that's happening on the street.'"
He encouraged business officials to raise awareness of the problem with employees and management.
Fentanyl is especially dangerous, he said — 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, permeable through the skin and easily inhaled, especially in powder form. And carfentanil is 10,000 times more potent than morphine.
As little of 2 milligrams of fentanyl can be a fatal dose. First responders should look for powder or evidence of a pill, although there could be no evidence of drugs at all, Maertz said.
"If you find someone OD'd on the floor, how do I protect myself as a first responder?" he said.
Maertz gave an overview of standards and recommendations for first responders dealing with potential opioid abuse — including special gloves, body suits and respirators — depending on the risk level at the scene.
Responders need special training on how to remove the protective clothing and to decontaminate the closing and their skin.