Episode 181 - Substance Use on the Jobsite: Challenges and Support Measures


Welcome to CCOHS podcasts. Today we're together via Zoom with Bryce Barker, Knowledge Broker, and Shawna Meister, Senior Policy and Research Analyst from the Canadian Center on Substance Use and Addiction, also known as the CCSA. We're joined by our guests to learn more about the impact of substance use disorder on young workers in the construction and trade industries, and how employers can help reduce the risk. Bryce, Shawna, welcome.


Thank you for having us.


Happy to be here.


Shawna, before we dive in, are you able to give us a little bit of background on the CCSA?

Shawna (30 seconds)

Sure. So CSSA, we were created by an act of parliament to provide national guidance and leadership on addiction and substance use issues. We are funded by Health Canada, but we are independent, and a non-profit organization and we primarily conduct evidence-based research. So that means that we look for the facts and report on that type of information to various agencies, or organizations or businesses, who are looking for more resources or help or understanding of substance use related issues.

Rachelle (1:01)

Thanks Shawna. So, let's talk substance use right now, including but not limited to alcohol, cannabis, and opioids. And we want to talk about the impact that it's having on Canadian workers.  Bryce, what can you tell us about the issue at hand with construction and in the trades industry?

Bryce (1:17)

Well, I guess to start with, I could stay it’s a long-standing issue, so, I myself, as a younger man I worked in a number of physically demanding jobs. So, I worked shift work, night shifts, and in a plastics factory, in a paper mill; I even spent a season on a service rig in the oil industry. So, I guess I've experienced that work hard, play hard, culture that we hear about, firsthand. In those different jobs. I saw things like, people showing up to work very, very hungover, or maybe still drunk, you know, there was cocaine floating around job sites or discussed openly. Looking back, I would say that a lot of these young men needed help, you know, or at least the health and safety issues that they were sort of bringing with them to a job needed to be better addressed. So, I'm really happy to be a part of this work where we're bringing some resources to employers that they can use to address substance use, especially in light of the opioid poisoning crisis and the opioid crisis that's happening now.

Rachelle (2:20)

Thanks, when we talk about employers, what issues are they facing in particular?

Shawna (2:24)

Well, you know, employers have a number of different issues that they're having to deal with. One of the things that Bryce and I hear from employers in the last few years is: first of all they have a genuine interest in helping and supporting their workers but you're not quite sure how to do it or what to do or what kind of information to give their staff or how to direct them for more help. We also understand because of Canadian law, employers are facing this need to navigate balancing the rights of individuals with ensuring that they have a safe workplace environment, and that their staff are showing up fit for duty. So, they're trying to navigate and figure out how to best apply both approaches in their in their workplaces. And one of the other things we're hearing from the construction and trades industry, is that they have an additional challenge because they have different work sites. They're not necessarily situated in an office. Their work site could be on the side of a road, it could be at a building, it could be remotely. And because of that, they also have changing workforces. So, an employee or worker might be coming in for one type of contract work and then leaving to go do a different type of contract work and then they get a new employee. So, employers in the construction and trades are also faced with this additional challenge of trying to observe and connect with their workers on a regular and consistent basis. So, there are a number of different challenges faced by employers and a few special ones for the construction and trades industry.

Rachelle (3:51)

Okay, so let's jump into the worker side. What issues do you see them facing?

Bryce (3:55)

So, I think, you know what we're seeing for employees is, you know, in some cases similar, you know, they're not sure what to do, they're not sure how to help. Sometimes, like a lot of us, they can struggle to see the difference between substance use. Let's say like alcohol, someone uses alcohol but in a way that doesn't affect them at work and you know, they don't necessarily have an alcohol use disorder and so they find it hard to really think about their colleagues and drinking as different from their own.  Or to think about how they can help or encourage someone to get help. If someone has a substance use disorder, they might not know about how to access free anonymous help or even if they can openly speak with her employer and not jeopardize their job. So, there's a lot of things, a lot of challenges I guess for employees and this is across a number of different Industries but some of them maybe are more pronounced in trades and construction.

Rachelle (4:56)

So, what can employers who are in the trades and construction industry do to help employees? Are there any specific resources out there?


Shawna (5:04)

Maybe I'll start and Bryce can add to this. We do know that there's a good strong interest in this area and different agencies and businesses and organizations have been doing what they can to address this issue. They've been developing maybe podcasts or handouts or guides or resources but we're finding that employers don't necessarily know these exist or they don't know how to get a hold of these. So, one of the things that CCSA has done is we've partnered with Health Canada to try and respond to two issues going on.

There's an immediate need right now to address some of the opioid overdoses occurring that are related to some people in the construction industry. But also, just in general supplying, some information to employers about, you know, what can they do to help educate their staff on different substances. What kind of resources can they give their employees to seek help? What can they do about stigma? And there's a lot of stigma around substitutes and we know that employees are often, or workers are often concerned about losing their job. So, they might not necessarily bring this forward to their employer. They might not feel comfortable doing it, but it is a workplace safety issue. So, there's lots of different things going on.

So, we partnered with Health Canada and what we've done is, we've collected all these resources and put them into one spot. They are already ready to use. They can be downloaded by an employer and they are meant to address some of the different things we've been hearing from employers. So, this toolkit of resources has different sections. We have a section that talks about different substances. So, there will be resources for alcohol, for opioids for cannabis. We have another section that helps employers with policy development, gives them some guides on how to ensure best practices in their business. There's also a section on stigma because the trades industry tends to people who are doing work that has a lot more physical element to it. They are more susceptible to pain and so that might lead them into using medications and not sure quite how to use the medications and those kinds of aspects. So, we do have a section on managing pain.

And so, this whole toolkit is designed so that there's a brief description for each piece. An employer just has to click on the link, and it'll take them to that resource right away. And if they want additional information, we've also included the organizations that supplied these tools in case maybe an employer wants to get some additional help or support from these organizations. So again, it's kind of a one-Stop shop and maybe Bryce, I'll let you add anything else that I may have missed on that.


Bryce (7:35)

The only thing I might add is just to emphasize a point that Shawna did make. So, every employer has that opportunity to make sure that their policies and procedures really have this baked-in considerations about substance use and safety, and substance use disorder and substance use disorder treatment, as a medical condition. These are in the resources that we're providing and it's one very concrete way that employers can think about an address substance abuse at their workplace, in their workplace.

Rachelle (8:08)

This sounds like an incredible tool kit. Let's talk about big dreams. What do you envision for this toolkit and how it can help employers and their workers?

Bryce (8:18)

Yeah, I'm happy to start. You know I think our hope is that the tool kit helps build the capacity of employers. You know, sort of the big dream, especially from our perspective as an organization, we really feel like issues like substance use stigma really get in the way of people getting the help they need. So, if we could influence employers to help remove some of that stigma. So that stigma just to even start a conversation to make sure that, you know, if they're seeing some red flags that they're feeling more comfortable or employees, are feeling more comfortable to have these conversations about safety. But about also about health and wellness, you know, getting to help people need. We know that some employers are already doing. Excellent work. So, you know, we know the impact of this will be more. Maybe there's some specific areas that they can concentrate on and some specific resources they can use. But you know, overall, we're really hoping this can be impactful and helpful for employers.

Shawna (9:18)

I might just add that I think at an employee, basic employee level to, you know, we know there's a lot of people out there who are just really need some additional support. And once we leave school and we're in the workforce, we don't always have information at the ready for us. So, the workplace is a really great place to disseminate some of this information and be mindful of both workplace safety issues, but also just our own health and well-being. So we do hope this tool kit helps to bring greater awareness to that but also just really helps us support some of those employees and workers out there who are not sure what to do, or where to go for help.

Rachelle (9:51)

So, where do they go for help worker and the employer.



Shawna (10:00)

Well, like I said we can, the toolkit is just in the process of being finalized. It should be being posted to our website at the approximate the end of June. So, this toolkit will have those types of resources, it actually gives specific phone numbers or websites, which are anonymous, for people to get information. And if you go to our website, when it is up, it will be under our Health and Public Safety section under Workplace Safety. And there, you'll see it under a resources section and so that's one way to access it.

Another way is if you have additional questions feel free to email either Bryce for myself.

Bryce (10:36)

The only thing I might add is that we're definitely providing those resources and links to those resources but for some employers themselves, and their employees, already have access to some services through their employee assistance program, sometimes even family members. So, you know, they can access those resources as well. And sometimes what we see is that people don't know that they can access services through their workplace already.

And so, I even just that internal education around, you know, these types of services are available to you as an employee and we encourage you to use them as needed.

Shawna (11:12)

And maybe one last comment, the name of the tool kit right now is, “Substance Use in the Workplace: Supporting Employers and Employees in the Trades”.

Rachelle (11:20)

Thanks so much Shawna and Bruce!

So, before we wrap up, we just wanted to again, say, thank you for being here. And we're very excited about this toolkit. We think it's going to be extremely useful for employers and workers. To learn more about substance use and it's impacts to workers and the workplace you can visit ccohs.ca  and type in “substance use”.  Thanks for listening.


Thank you for having us.


Very happy to be here.


Thanks everyone. Bye.