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Cannabis Rising: Ensuring Workplace Safety as Marijuana Usage Soars

We’re at a turning point in Canadian history. The cannabis industry is booming, medical marijuana usage is at an all-time high, public perception is shifting and pundits predict a future that will include marijuana legalization across the board.

But easier access and rising cannabis usage creates a new set of challenges for employers in high-risk industries. Whether obtained legally or illegally, marijuana can impair an employee’s cognitive functions, hinder their ability to perform safe work and ultimately put your company at risk. So, how can health and safety professionals continue to keep their employees safe as we tread into this uncharted territory?

The eCompliance team recently attended DriverCheck’s Marijuana Unwrapped conference to get the inside scoop on the issues surrounding cannabis usage in the workplace and what steps employers can take to protect their employees and their business.

Legal complexities and repercussions


Employers have legal responsibilities under Canadian criminal law and the Occupational Health and Safety legislation to provide a safe workplace and ensure public safety. Failure to take action to prevent workplace incidents can result in serious liability. Throwing medical marijuana usage into the mix adds a new layer of complexity for employers to navigate through.

According to Norm Keith, partner at Fasken Martineau and presenter at Marijuana Unwrapped, companies should take every reasonable precaution to protect their workforce. If you have an employee that is authorized to take marijuana for medical purposes, Keith recommends requesting medical documentation that evaluates their ability to complete work safely. Bottom line: even if an employee is medically authorized to use marijuana, they shouldn’t be working in a high-risk environment if they can’t perform their job safely.

In the event an incident does occur and cannabis usage is involved, employers can be fined for failure to prevent workers from being under the influence of drugs, charged with criminal negligence and can even face jail time. A tragic example of this is the Metron Construction case, where four employees were killed when scaffolding collapsed during work on a Toronto apartment building. A toxicology analysis revealed that three of the employees and the site supervisor all had marijuana in their system. The company’s project manager was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison and Metron was fined $750,000.

How EHS professionals can protect their employees and avoid marijuana safety issues


Using marijuana in the workplace can have a significant impact on an employee’s ability to do their job. Delayed reaction times, lethargy and attention span deficits (just to name a few side effects) can all contribute to poor performance. This is especially unsettling when you consider that employees in safety-sensitive industries like construction and mining need to be at the top of their game at all times to manage risk and prevent incidents.

Research from DriverCheck’s Chief Medical Review Officer, Dr. Melissa Snider-Adler, states that there are now 80,000 Canadians who are authorized to possess marijuana for medical purposes. She expects this number to grow to over 400,000 by 2024 if Canada hasn’t already reached legalization by then. With those figures in mind, employers need to start thinking about implementing a new strategy to protect their workforce and their business.

3 Things Employers Can Do to Mitigate Risk


1. Develop a comprehensive drug and alcohol policy
The first thing employers should do to mitigate risk is to create a formal drug and alcohol policy to prohibit the use of these substances at work. Your policy should state that your company has zero tolerance for drug and alcohol use and outline how an investigation will be conducted if the policy is violated and what the consequences are. As part of your continuous improvement commitment, be sure to offer your workers access to educational information, counselling, and rehabilitation services through your employee assistance program. If you work for a company that also employs contractors or subcontractors, consider adding a section into the policy that applies to them as well.

2. Implement a drug testing program
If you’re an EHS professional in a particularly high-risk industry, you may want to consider adding a testing program to your drug and alcohol policy. Before implementation, be sure to clearly document in your policy the specific circumstances where drug tests will be administered to employees. Depending on the needs of your organization, it may make sense to conduct regular testing or only test when there is reasonable cause to believe substances were used by a worker involved in an incident.

3. Centralize data management
In the event an incident does occur at your company, the onus is on you to demonstrate due diligence and prove you have done everything in your power to protect your workers. Consider adding a
 safety management system (SMS) to your EHS program to help with this. A safety management system should enable you to store all your policies in a centralized place and come with the capability to assign employees documents to read and sign off on when completed. Additionally, you can use this tool to track employee medical records, training certifications and test results. This way, if an incident does happen, you can easily prepare for the investigation and prove due diligence just by pulling a few reports.

Wrapping Up Marijuana Unwrapped


As we move towards marijuana legalization in Canada, it’s critical that EHS professionals are proactive in their risk management approach and are properly equipped to protect both their employees and their companies. To adequately prepare for increased cannabis usage in your workplace, ensure you have a clearly outlined drug policy, consider implementing a testing program, and remember to store all your documentation in a single location should an incident arise and you’re pressed to prove due diligence.

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