Health and Safety ReportVolume 16, Issue 08

On Topic

On High Alert: Addressing Impairment in the Workplaceprint this article

Don’t wait for the October 17 legalization of recreational cannabis to start preparing for the possible impacts on your workplace. Now’s the time to review your policies and procedures because, regardless of the source, impairment can affect our focus, judgment, and ability to do our jobs safely.  Learn more about the steps you can take to reduce the impact of impairment and the role that both employers and employees play in workplace safety.

Understanding impairment

Impairment in the workplace is not a new issue. There are many potential causes of impairment including the use of legal and illegal substances such as alcohol, cannabis, drugs (over the counter, prescription, illicit), and certain medications, as well as factors such as fatigue, life stresses, and certain medical conditions. As such, employers already have had to deal with the potential of impairment in the workplace. Legalization of recreational cannabis may not necessarily change existing policies and procedures, but workplaces should take the opportunity now to review them to ensure they address both therapeutic and recreational cannabis.

While cannabis will be acceptable under the law as of October 17, impairment is still not acceptable in the workplace, and for good reason.

Like others sources of impairment, using cannabis or any cannabis product can affect your ability to concentrate, think, and make decisions. Your coordination may suffer and reaction time may slow down. This can affect your motor skills, including your ability to drive. It can also increase anxiety and cause panic attacks, and in some cases cause paranoia and hallucinations. When inhaling cannabis, the chemicals in the smoke pass from the lungs into the blood, which carries the chemicals throughout the body and to the brain. If ingested instead of smoked, the effects of cannabis are delayed because the chemicals must first pass through the digestive system.

Employer and employee roles

Workplace health and safety is a responsibility shared between employers and employees. Employers are responsible for developing, implementing and monitoring hazard prevention programs, which should include policies around any potential hazards in the workplace, such as drugs, alcohol or other substance. Employees have the duty to do their job safely and understand the impact that using substances can have on their safety and that of others.

Employers, managers and supervisors need to be on the lookout for signs of impairment from the consumption of cannabis. To exercise due diligence, an employer should work with the health and safety committee to create and implement a plan that identifies possible workplace hazards, including the impacts of possible impairment, and carries out the appropriate corrective action to prevent incident or injuries.  Workers have the duty under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to report hazards as they seem them.

The law

Cannabis laws will vary by jurisdiction. Each province and territory has the ability to set its own rules for cannabis, including: the legal minimum age, where you can buy it, and where you can use it. Check with your jurisdiction for the applicable legislation.

Update your policies

Employers should update or develop workplace policies and programs that address impairment from any source.

Developing a clear impairment policy that takes a fitness-to-work approach to impairment, communicating the policy to workers, and applying it consistently can help employers manage their obligation to ensure workplace safety. "Fit to work" or "fitness to work" is a medical assessment done when an employer wishes to be sure an employee can safely do a specific job or task. The purpose is to determine if medically the employee can perform the job or task under the working conditions.

Labour and management, including the health and safety committee, should jointly develop a policy that addresses the risk of workplace impairment. The policy should use general concepts such as “impairment” as this approach will be relevant to all sources of impairment, not just cannabis.

Some elements of an effective policy could include

  • Defining impairment.
  • Addressing impairment from both recreational and medical cannabis as well as other causes.
  • Stating if the item is allowed on premise, and if so, under what circumstances.
  • Educating workers on your policies and programs, and ways that the workplace can help and provide support, such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
  • Training workers, supervisors and managers on how to identify signs of suspected impairment, and how to respond appropriately.
  • Describing when accommodation will be considered (for example, workers with medical needs or disabilities).
  • Explaining how disciplinary actions will be conducted, when necessary.

Accommodation and Testing

Employers have the duty to assess each situation and determine the effect on the workplace, and the possibility of fulfilling the duty to accommodate in terms of therapeutic use and disability due to substance dependence. Base accommodation plans on medical assessment, and develop them collaboratively with the employee.

Testing employees for substances typically reveals only the presence of the substance, not the level of impairment. Human rights legislation generally does not support testing. Employers should seek legal advice before testing workers for substances, and supervisors and employees should be educated and trained on current policies, programs, and recognizing impairment in others.

Addressing potential impairment from cannabis is part of a workplace’s hazard assessment process.

Reducing the impact of impairment on the workplace requires having the appropriate mechanisms in place, providing clear guidance to all workplace parties, and applying workplace policies and programs using a fair and consistent approach.



Tips and Tools

On the Road to Comfortprint this article

Anyone who spends a lot of time in a vehicle is likely to experience the aches and pains that come from prolonged sitting. Long distance drivers or those that spend a lot of time driving experience pain more often as it is more difficult to shift body positions while driving.

Discomfort and lower back pain are frequent complaints reported by drivers. These injuries also include foot cramps, low back pain, stiff neck, and sore shoulders from poor posture, stress, tension, and staying in one posture for an extended period.

Poor posture can result from personal driving habits, or from an improperly adjusted or fitted seat. The shape of the vehicle seat may put pressure on selected parts of the legs, back and buttocks. This contact can lead to pain or discomfort at pressure points and may affect blood flow to the legs and feet. Low frequency whole-body vibration in larger vehicles such as trucks or buses can also contribute to effects on the lower back.

Some tips for preventing back pain from sitting for long periods include:

  • Empty your back pockets before you drive so your back isn’t tilted to one side.
  • Don’t slump in your seat.
  • Use the seat’s lumbar support – adjust it so that the back rest is in contact along the full length of your back.  If necessary, use a lumbar support, cushion, or rolled towel to support your lower back.
  • Adjust your seat and steering wheel so you can press the pedals without moving your lower back away from the back of the seat, and so your arms are at a comfortable angle and not overstretched.
  • Adjust your seat so that your knees are at the same height or slightly lower than your hips when driving.
  • Adjust your mirrors after you have adjusted your seat to avoid twisting and stretching.
  • Change the seat position a few degrees every 20 or 30 minutes.
  • Take a break - get out of the vehicle to stand, stretch, and walk to help circulate the blood in your legs and give a much-needed rest to the muscles needed to sit. Taking five minutes every hour will make a big difference.
  • Stay fit – maintaining strong abdominal muscles will support your back and reduce the likelihood of back pain.





Podcasts: Elements of a Workplace Impairment Policyprint this article

This month’s featured podcasts include Elements of a Workplace Impairment Policy and an encore presentation of Arthritis in the Workplace.

Feature Podcast: Elements of a Workplace Impairment Policy

Jan Chappel, Senior Technical Specialist at the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) explains what should be covered in an impairment policy and how employers should respond if they suspect someone is impaired in their workplace.

The podcast runs 4:15 minutes.  Listen to the podcast now.

Encore Podcast: Arthritis in the Workplace

Arthritis is one of the leading causes of disability in Canada and typically occurs during the prime working years, between ages 35-50. It is predicted that more than seven million Canadian adults will be diagnosed with arthritis in the next 20 years. Learn what steps you can take to reduce the adverse effects of arthritis in the workplace.

The podcast runs for 5:24 minutes.  Listen to the podcast now.


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!

See the complete list of podcast topics. Better yet, subscribe to the series on iTunes and don't miss a single episode.

Last Word.

Managing Arthritis: Tips to Protect Your Jointsprint this article

Arthritis affects over 2.5 million Canadian workers regardless of their age or gender. The joint pain, discomfort, and disability that come with the disease can make work difficult. Here are some tips to help manage arthritis and protect your joints while at work.

A well-organized work environment can help you work more safely and efficiently, and at the same time minimize your joint pain. It may also improve your stamina, concentration, mobility and agility as well as decrease anxiety, stress and fatigue.

Tips to help you organize your work environment:

  • Arrange your workspace so that commonly used items are within easy reach.
  • Use a chair mat to make it easy to slide or turn your chair.
  • If you stand a lot at work, try to arrange your workspace so that you can stand square to your workstation and avoid bending or twisting.
  • If you have to stand for long periods of time on hard flooring, use rubber matting or anti-fatigue matting to relieve strain on your lower back and legs.
  • Try to vary your body position (alternate between sitting and standing where possible) while maintaining good body postures. Using a sit-stand desk allows for you to alternate between sitting and standing.
  • To reach items on high shelves, use a step stool to reduce the strain from over-reaching and arching your lower back.
  • Use kneepads when kneeling.
  • Make sure the temperature in your work area is comfortable.
  • Ask your employer if doorknobs can be replaced with levers (it is easier on the wrist to push down on a lever than to twist a knob).

Good posture can help you maintain energy levels throughout the day. Here are some tips to improve your sitting posture:

  • While working at a desk, sit in a comfortable chair that supports your lower and mid-back (make sure the backrest meets the small of your back) as well as your thighs and buttocks.
  • Make sure the chair is a comfortable distance from the computer to avoid over-reaching.
  • Sit upright with square shoulders. Your shoulders should be relaxed but not slumped. Your hips and knees should be at 90 degrees.
  • Adjust the height of your chair if necessary so that your feet are flat on the floor — you don’t want your feet dangling. If you can’t lower your seat, use a footrest. Your hips should be slightly higher than your knees so make sure your footrest isn’t too high. It may be necessary to adjust the desk height as well.
  • Make sure your chair seat is level or sloping slightly upwards at the front — never downwards.
  • Check that your armrests are at the right height — if you have to hunch your shoulders then the armrests are too high, but if your elbows don’t reach them they are too low. Your elbows should be at a relaxed 90-degree angle to the keyboard and your back should be straight.
  • Change your body position often. For example, stand up or stretch if you have been sitting for a while. If you need to, use a timer or software program to remind yourself to switch positions.


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