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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.
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.
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
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 & Tools
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:
Health and Safety To Go
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!
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:
Good posture can help you maintain energy levels throughout the day. Here are some tips to improve your sitting posture:
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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.
© 2018, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
Length: 4:15 minutes
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