Podcast Title: Health and Safety to Go!

Episode #: 146: Elements of a Workplace Impairment Policy



Introduction: Welcome to Health and Safety to Go, broadcasting from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.


Host:††† Hello and thank you for joining us. Today weíre talking to Jan Chappel, Senior Technical Specialist at CCOHS, about creating impairment policies in the workplace, as well as how to respond if you suspect impairment. Thanks for being here today Jan!† Letís start with the basics.† For those new to this subject, what is impairment and what does it look like in the workplace?


Jan: †Thanks Chris.† We often think of being impaired when you see someone who has used a substance or in terms of addiction or dependence to alcohol or drugs, whether itís used legally or illegally. But impairment can be the result of many situations, including some that are temporary or short term. Impairment is any issue that may distract a person from focusing on their tasks, including those that are related to family or relationship problems, fatigue such as mental or physical fatigue, traumatic shock, or medical conditions or treatments.


So given that there are many causes of impairment, the signs or symptoms will vary as well.† Common signs include personality changes or erratic behaviour such as increase in conflicts, over-reaction to criticism, observing odours of alcohol or drugs on the person, glassy or red eyes, unsteady gaits, slurring or poor coordination.† They can be working in an unsafe manner or over time, you may notice that there is consistent lateness, absenteeism, or reduced productivity.


Host: †What does an impairment policy look like?


Jan: ††Policies and programs are the employerís way of communicating what steps they will take to make sure that everyone works in a workplace that is healthy and safe.


Policies should be developed jointly by both labour and management, including the health and safety committee or representative, or your union if you have one.


The goal of the policy is to clearly state what the organizationís position is about impairment at work and how the organization will deal with impairment.† Stating these terms up front allows everyone to know the values and expectations of the organization, how they will stay in compliance with any relevant legislation, and what actions will be taken.† These steps provide for the consistent treatment of employees and to keep all actions fair and transparent.†


Host:† Are there key elements that should be included in an impairment policy?


Jan:† Yes, there are.Elements of the policy include to define what your workplace considers to be impairment. You can describe the mechanism for reporting whether its yourself or others.† Outline how confidentiality is maintained.† State if an item is allowed on the premises, and under what circumstances. Describe the education and training to be provided to the employees and the managers and supervisors. You can describe the support provided by the employer, such as Employee Assistance Programs.† And if you are conducting drug testing, outline the circumstances under which the testing will be done and describe how disciplinary actions will be conducted, when necessary.


Host: How should a workplace respond if they suspect an employee is impaired on the job?


Jan: †When impairment is noted, managers and supervisors should consider if there is a risk to the individualís safety or the safety of others.†† hey need to determine answers to questions, such as, does the person have the ability to perform the job or task safely? Are they driving, are they operating machinery or equipment, using sharp objects?† You also have to consider if there is an impact on the cognitive ability or judgement of that person.†† And then consider if there are other side effects to the situation, medical condition or treatment that needs to be considered.†††


So itís best when responding to impairment to speak to the employee in a private area, ask a designated person to be present as a witness, handle all actions with empathy and without judgement.† Do not attach stigma to the situation or trying to determine the cause of impairment.† But donít forget, if the individual needs immediate medical assistance, please call 911.


Host: Thank you for speaking with us today about this important issue Jan. More information about impairment can be found on the CCOHS website: www.ccohs.ca/impairment. Thanks for listening everyone.