Health and Safety Report
February 2010 - Volume 8, Issue 2

On Topic

A Sobering Look at Substance Abuse in the Workplaceprint this article

It's neither new nor surprising that some people use and abuse alcohol and other substances. A 2004 study by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) showed that about 80% of Canadians currently drink alcohol, and 13.6% of all Canadians are considered to be high risk drinkers. Add the fact that approximately 14% of Canadian adults currently use marijuana and it becomes very likely that substance abuse in the general population will show up in the workplace.

Everyone can have a bad day however an employee with a substance problem will often display noticeable changes in behaviour over a period of time. The employee may be frequently late or absent from work. They may have reduced productivity and/or poor work quality. Substance abuse can impair reflexes, concentration and alertness on the job, increasing the risk for accidents. It can affect decision making and overall job performance.

What are the costs to a business?

CSSA reports that in 2002 the abuse of tobacco, alcohol and illegal drugs cost the Canadian economy more than $39 billion. The costs to a business center around four main impacts: premature deaths (substance abuse-related illness) and fatal accidents; injuries and accident rates; absenteeism; and lost productivity.

There can be additional costs related to:

  • tardiness

  • theft

  • poor decision making

  • increased likelihood of having trouble with co-workers/supervisors or tasks

  • higher turnover and training of new employees

  • disciplinary procedures

  • drug testing programs

  • medical/rehabilitation/employee assistance programs

How work may contribute to abuse of substances

Although there are many different personal and social factors that can play a role in substance abuse, work involving the following may also contribute to the problem:

  • high stress

  • low job satisfaction

  • long hours or irregular shifts

  • fatigue

  • repetitious duties

  • periods of inactivity or boredom

  • isolation

  • remote or irregular supervision

  • easy access to substances

What the workplace can do

Employers and employees can work together to develop a comprehensive substance abuse program that encompasses policy, and supervisory and employee training. Having a well-enforced substance abuse policy creates consistency across the organization and lets employees know what is expected of them. The policy should clearly state expectations, what help is available, and the consequences of violations. By establishing or promoting programs such as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), employers can help troubled employees more directly or provide referrals to community services.

It is important for supervisors and managers to have a resource or procedure that they can rely on if the need arises. Employees need to know that everyone will be treated the same way. Pre-planning, as for many other occupational health and safety issues, is the best way to avoid confusion and frustration in times that are already difficult.

Substance abuse policy

A company substance abuse policy should emphasize that the program is confidential and be jointly created by labour and management. The policy should state:

  • the purpose and objectives of the program

  • the definition of substance abuse

  • who is covered by the policy and/or program

  • the employee's rights to confidentiality

  • that employees will be educated about substance abuse (e.g., a substance-free awareness program)

  • that employees, supervisors, and others will be trained to identify impaired behaviour and substance abuse

  • that assistance will be provided for chronic substance abusers

  • how to deal with impaired workers

  • the circumstances under which drug or alcohol testing will be conducted

  • the nature of disciplinary actions that will be taken and the circumstances under which they will be applied

More resources:

Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA)

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)

Effects of various types of substances: OSH Answers

Alerts & Bulletins

Safety on the Side for Emergency Respondersprint this article

Roadside Hazards

Lights are flashing, traffic slows to a snail's pace and you can see the stretcher being loaded into the ambulance. Police stand on the side of the road directing traffic around the accident and the firefighters load their equipment back onto the truck. This is a scene many of us have witnessed on our streets, roads and highways. What we don't see are the injuries and deaths that result from emergency responders being struck by passing vehicles.

SAFE Work Manitoba has issued a bulletin to raise awareness of the hazard faced by emergency workers - police, fire and paramedic services - providing emergency roadside assistance, who are at risk of being struck by vehicles traveling in nearby traffic lanes.

Safe work procedures

To minimize the risk associated with working near moving traffic, employers must establish and implement safe work procedures. The procedures must provide effective means of traffic control for emergency responders who are providing roadside assistance. Safe work procedures must be appropriate to the task, for example, rescuing a trapped individual from their car, stabilizing a victim before they are transported by ambulance, responding to an emergency call and parking on the side of the road, and other unusual circumstances. Emergency response workers must be trained to follow these procedures and be provided with tools and resources needed for protection.

Worker protection

In addition to implementing safe work procedures, there are other precautionary measures that can be taken to protect workers providing emergency roadside assistance:

  • Devices to warn approaching drivers

    • warning signs, flares or traffic cones

    • barriers

    • lane control devices

    • flashing lights

    • automatic or remote controlled traffic control systems

    • flag person(s)

  • Emergency roadside (assistance) equipment

    • Roadside assistance vehicles can provide protection for workers as they set up visual markers (flares or traffic cones) at the scene of assistance. Care should be taken to avoid working between vehicles.

  • Personal protective equipment

    • Emergency workers providing roadside assistance must wear high visibility safety apparel at all times, that meets workplace health and safety regulatory requirements. In some circumstances, the high visibility apparel will be part of the worker's uniform or turnout gear. If not, the worker must wear a high visibility vest.

    • Emergency clothing, safety footwear and safety headwear appropriate for the conditions must be worn.

  • Communication equipment

    • Communication equipment such as a mobile radio or phone must be kept in good working condition and be available to workers providing emergency roadside assistance.

  • Additional precautionary measures

    • Consult with local law enforcement to assist with traffic control.

    • For emergency response workers who are actively engaged in firefighting or vehicle extrication on a roadway, turnout gear may be substituted for high visibility safety apparel, provided that traffic control measures have been established. Personnel designated to control traffic must wear high visibility apparel.

Learn about CAN/CSA Standard Z96, High-Visibility Safety Apparel, SAFE Work Manitoba

Read the full bulletin from SAFE Work Manitoba


The Next Best Thing to Being Thereprint this article

In just a few days, health and safety professionals and experts from across the country will meet in the National Capital Region to discuss the impact of leadership in a rapidly evolving workplace. CCOHS' Forum III: Leading Workplace Change is being held March 8-9, 2010, and there are still spots available.

For those who are interested in Forum III but cannot attend in person, CCOHS is now offering a live webcast of the speaker, panel and case study sessions.

Watching the webcast is the next best thing to being at the event. Webcast registrants will see live video of speakers along with their slides, all synchronized to their presentation. They will gain insights from leading health and safety experts on topics ranging from leadership, workplace violence, participatory ergonomics, to training and knowledge transfer.

Each day is available as a separate package, and includes the ability to submit questions and to download the presentation slides. In addition, the fee includes access to the recording for 30 days following the webcast. Continuing education points are also available.

Presentations will be delivered in English however if they prefer, webcast registrants will have the option to listen to the simultaneous French language interpretation.

Learn more about the webcast and register.

Find out more about Forum III.

Last Word

Special Dates to Rememberprint this article

Forget Them Not - April 28

April 28th is National Day of Mourning in Canada. The flag on Parliament Hill will fly at half mast, we will pause, remember those who have lost their lives or been injured in the workplace, and reflect on how to prevent future tragedies.

You can wear your support with a Day of Mourning commemorative pin. Or, you can download and display our free poster in your workplace. Printed posters are also available at a nominal cost. To receive your materials in time, you should place your orders by March 31.

Steps for Life Walk - May 2

On May 2nd, in 28 cities across Canada, the Steps for Life 5 KM Walk will kick off NAOSH Week 2010. The event is not only fun, it also helps spread the message that workplace injuries and illnesses are preventable. Steps for Life is the major fundraising event for Threads of Life, a national charitable organization dedicated to supporting families along their journey of healing who have suffered from a workplace fatality, life-altering illness or occupational disease.

The CCOHS team will once again be walking in the Hamilton event. Find the walk closest to you and put your team together. It will be a Sunday to remember. Learn more about how you can participate on the Steps for Life website.

More information

Learn more about the National Day of Mourning.

Listen to the Day of Mourning podcast with CCOHS President and CEO Len Hong.

Download the Day of Mourning poster.

Order Day of Mourning pins.

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