As the number of Canadians who are prescribed medical marijuana grows and the federal government looks at a new legislative framework for the legalization and regulation of marijuana, what does its use mean for the workplace?
The possession of marijuana, also called cannabis, is illegal in Canada under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act; however, its use for medical purposes is permitted. This provision allows for the legal possession and use of marijuana by individuals with a medical prescription. To keep pace with these changes, there will need to be an enhanced understanding of the use of medical marijuana by both employers and employees. For example, workplaces may need to update their alcohol and drug policies.
Employers may need to have policies in place permitting the prescribed medical use of marijuana in the workplace either as an “accepted” result of a random drug test, or as a form of accommodation. When an employee claims a medical need for marijuana, the request should be treated in the same manner as any other request for medical accommodation. When making accommodations, as with any prescription, employers have the right to prohibit impairment on the job, particularly in safety-sensitive positions.
The non-medical use of marijuana may be treated in substantially the same way as the use of alcohol under an organization’s alcohol and drug policy. Employers have the right to prohibit the use of marijuana during work hours, and to prohibit working while impaired.
When smoking marijuana the chemicals in the plant pass from the lungs into the blood vessels, which carry the chemicals throughout the body and to the brain. The immediate effects include euphoria and relaxation, changes in perception, time distortion, deficits in attention span and momentary body tremors, and impaired motor functioning. Health Canada states “Using cannabis or any cannabis product can impair your concentration, your ability to think and make decisions, and your reaction time and coordination. This can affect your motor skills, including your ability to drive.”
Defining and assessing impairment poses a significant challenge when developing and implementing policies concerning medical marijuana use in the workplace.
When developing workplace policies employers must clearly articulate medical use of marijuana does not negate workplace policies for safe job performance. The evolving legal situation on medical marijuana means that employers need to consult with legal experts to develop company policy and be clear on the implications of impaired on-duty workers.
Employers should review any workplace policies involving drug and alcohol use, in consultation with the health and safety committee and unions, where appropriate. The focus of the policy should be on “impairment” or “under the influence”, and the ability to do the work safely. Policies should be inclusive and consider any prescribed drug or substance that is used medically (or otherwise).
Is medical marijuana acceptable in the workplace?
The use of medical marijuana does not entitle an employee to be impaired at work, nor can the use of medical marijuana allow that employee to endanger their own safety or the safety of others.
Employees may want to inform their employer if a medical procedure or treatment may impact their ability to perform their job safely. If the organization has a substance use/abuse policy, it may be necessary to disclose the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
Workplace policies dealing with medical marijuana should largely reflect policies created to address any other use of prescription medication in the workplace and that have the potential to impact or impair his or her work.
- Medical Marijuana Fact Sheet, CCOHS
- Cannabis for medical purposes, Government of Canada
- Task Force on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation, Government of Canada
- Marijuana in the Workplace: Guidance for Occupational Health Professionals and Employers, PDF, American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM), Volume 57, Number 4, April 2015,
Tips & Tools
Tips for Safely Sharing the Road with Transport Trucks
Driving a transport truck is radically different from driving a car. Restricted and obstructed views, limited manoeuverability, and maintaining a sharp awareness of the actions of other drivers and vehicles are major concerns facing truck drivers. The enormous size and weight of commercial vehicles mean they behave much differently than your passenger vehicle. Trucks need time and space, as well as awareness and respect from other drivers who are sharing the road.
What the truck driver sees from a transport truck cab is more limited than the view from your driver’s seat. Knowing the characteristics of large commercial vehicles and how they operate will help you stay safe on the road. The British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure Online (TranBC) has identified 10 ways for you to safely share the road with commercial vehicles.
- Stay out of the truck’s blind spots – Trucks have blind spots on all sides – front, rear and alongside. The driver can’t see you at all if you’re in front, close to their bumper and especially if you’re near the right front bumper. They also can’t see you if you’re travelling closely behind, or in some spots beside the truck. Keep your distance and allow lots of space between you and the truck to avoid these blind spots. When passing, which should be done on the left, keep moving. Don’t linger in a blind spot.
Mirrors will help you know if you’re clear of the blind spots. If you can see the truck’s side mirror when you’re behind the truck, the driver can see you. Staying further back also provides a wider view of the road ahead. When in front of a truck, be sure you can see the truck’s windshield, in your rear view mirror.
- Don’t cut in front – Transport trucks pack a lot of weight. It takes a lot more time and distance for a 40,000-kilogram load to stop than it does for any private passenger vehicle. So, don’t cut in front of a truck. The driver may not see you (due to blind spots) and, if you need to suddenly stop, they can’t stop as quickly as you. It’s especially important to never cut in front of a truck just before a traffic signal. The light could turn red, and you may have just reduced the space that the driver has allowed themselves for stopping.
- Allow lots of room for passing – Check out how long the truck is before you decide to pass – some trucks pull two trailers. Be sure you’ve got lots of room and time to travel the length of the truck. Don’t pull back into the travelling lane, until you can see the truck’s windshield in your rear view mirror.
- Give oversize loads extra respect (and space) – A truck or pilot car with a sign that says “Wide Load,” “Long Load” or “Oversize Load” means they may travel slowly, and occupy more of the road than a typical vehicle. Use extra caution and patience in these situations.
- Stay out of the squeeze – Long trucks need more room to pivot. When turning right, the truck may swing widely to the left into the lane beside them, and you might mistakenly think that the right lane has become available. This gap is only temporary, and as the trailer travels around the corner, it will return to the right lane. If you decide to come up alongside the truck in the right lane, you might get “squeezed” between the trailer and the curb. This situation could easily occur in a roundabout. Stay back.
- Tune into turbulence –The motion of a large transport truck creates strong wind currents and changes in air pressure. Turbulence can make it more difficult to control your vehicle, especially on slippery roads. If you are hauling a trailer or camper, or are on a motorcycle, you are especially affected by this turbulence. Whenever trucks are driving near you, keep a firm hold of your steering wheel or handlebars.
- Watch for bad weather – In nasty weather, big trucks may throw extra snow, mud, rain and slush onto your windshield, obscuring the view ahead.
- Beware the roll – When a truck that is facing uphill releases its brakes, the truck may roll backwards a bit before moving ahead. Allow some extra space when you are behind a stopped truck.
- Provide lots of advanced notice and room – Given the restricted view of the truck driver, and the greater stopping distance needed by a truck, let the driver know your next move. Signal early and follow four seconds behind.
- Keep out of runaway lanes – When heavy trucks going down certain mountain roads find themselves out of control, the driver can take a runaway lane to prevent a crash. A runaway lane is an emergency escape ramp, sometimes filled with gravel, running parallel to the road that enables vehicles that are having braking problems to safely stop. Never stop in a runaway lane – these lanes are emergency exits for the sole use of commercial truck drivers.
- 10 Tips to Sharing the Road Safely with Transport Trucks, Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (TranBC)
A new law aimed at keeping Ontario workplaces free from sexual harassment and improving support for complainants went into effect on September 8, 2016. The legislation includes amendments to Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) that increase employers’ responsibilities with respect to harassment that occurs in the workplace. This includes a new definition of workplace sexual harassment, requiring new elements that will need to be included in workplace harassment programs, and adding new employer duties that will help to protect workers from workplace harassment.
In the legislation, the meaning of workplace harassment includes sexual violence, sexual harassment, and domestic violence. The expanded definition added to the Occupational Health and Safety Act states that “workplace sexual harassment” includes distressing, unwelcome comments or conduct against a worker due to their gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. It also includes any type of sexual solicitation or advance by a person who is in a position of power over the worker, where the person should reasonably understand the advance would be unwelcome.
For employers, Bill 132 presents important workplace related changes as it requires specific workplace harassment policies and programs to be in place and that incidents and complaints are appropriately investigated. Ministry of Labour inspectors will now have the authority to order a third-party investigation at the employer’s expense, especially if the internal investigation is seen to be flawed or incomplete.
Under Bill 132 a workplace harassment prevention program must:
- Set out who would investigate if the alleged harasser is the employer. Larger companies may already have their own trained investigators, and smaller companies may need to hire an external investigator.
- Set out how confidentiality will be maintained. The policy must include procedures on how information is obtained during the investigation, including identifying information about any of the individuals involved.
- Provide written results of the investigation to the complainant and alleged harasser. New employer responsibility ensures written results of the investigation are shared with both the complainant and the respondent, including any action taken or to be taken.
Ontario employers should already have a policy related to violence and harassment in the workplace. (The Ministry of Labour provides guidelines as well as an example of a workplace violence prevention policy.) Within their existing policy, the employer would then need to add measures to protect workers from sexual violence and harassment.
Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, any of the following types of behaviour are forms of sexual and gender-based harassment:
- Gender-related comments about a person’s physical characteristics or mannerisms
- Paternalistic comment or conduct based on gender, which undermines a person’s self-respect or position of responsibility
- Demands for dates or sexual favours
- Unwelcome physical contact
- Suggestive or offensive remarks or innuendoes about members of a specific gender
- Propositions of physical intimacy
- Gender-related verbal abuse, threats or taunting
- Leering or inappropriate staring
- Bragging about sexual prowess or questions or discussions about sexual activities
- Offensive jokes or comments of a sexual nature about an employee or client
- Rough and vulgar humour or language related to gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression
- Display of sexually offensive pictures, graffiti or other materials, including through electronic means
For more information:
- Workplace Violence and Workplace Harassment, Ontario Ministry of Labour
- Sexual and gender-based harassment: know your rights (brochure), Ontario Human Rights Commission
Health and Safety To Go
This month’s Health and Safety To Go! features the new podcast episode Good Health at Work and an encore of the podcast Proper Lighting in the Workplace.
Feature Podcast: Good Health at Work
Considering that the average Canadian spends 36 hours at work per week, it's not surprising that the workplace can significantly affect overall health and well-being. In this episode you'll learn some strategies for eating better, keeping active, improving the physical environment, and staying mentally fit – and discover the roles that both employers and workers can play in achieving and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
The podcast runs 6:08 minutes.
Encore Podcast: Proper Lighting in the Workplace
CCOHS explores how poor lighting can affect worker productivity, and offers tips on conducting a lighting audit.
The podcast runs 2:31 minutes.
CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips, and insights into the health, safety, and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience... or on the go!
Imagine working in an environment that is healthy and safe and in which you feel valued, respected and satisfied with your job. You would likely be more productive and committed to your work. There is a strong connection between the health and well-being of people and their work environments. A workplace culture which promotes employee mental and physical health, as well as productivity and organizational effectiveness is a healthy workplace.
Everyone can benefit from a healthy workplace. By being flexible and giving employees options such as part-time work, job sharing, flexible hours or the choice to work from home, many businesses have succeeded in reducing employee stress, absenteeism and the feeling of being burned out. In a healthy workplace employee morale is boosted, relationships between colleagues are enhanced, employees are more motivated to show initiative, while production and overall satisfaction go up.
To help employers, workers and practitioners participate in creating their own healthy workplace, CCOHS has released a new Healthy Workplaces website that brings together some of the best information, tools and resources available.
What are the top barriers and issues affecting the health and safety of workplaces in Canada, and what can we do about them? Seize your opportunity to be heard by taking part in an online survey that continues the conversation sparked at Forum 2016 held earlier this year in Vancouver.
CCOHS’ Forum 2016 brought together subject experts, workers, employers and governments from across the country and beyond, to learn about and discuss current and emerging health and safety issues. Delegates explored the challenges arising from shifting demographics, climate change, mental health, workplace culture, emotional intelligence, and more.
Through workshop sessions delegates also weighed in on the barriers, issues, ideas, and good practices taking place in workplaces. They highlighted their own experiences, identifying concerns and outlining possible solutions and strategies. CCOHS invites Canadians to help continue that dialogue. Take part in our survey and add your voice and perspective.
To take the survey, visit http://www.ccohs.ca/events/forum16/#outcomes.
The full results of this survey will be available next year.
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2017, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
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