On October 17, 2018, the Federal government legalized the use of recreational marijuana in Canada. While many Canadians celebrated what’s come to be called “National Cannabis Day”, not everyone was feeling as jubilant. These changes to the legal status of marijuana have raised occupational health and safety concerns for many employers, especially for those in construction and field service where safety is already a concern and workers must be alert at all times. Millions of Canadians take risks every day in dozens of demanding “safety-sensitive” occupations: elevator mechanics working in shafts, commercial and industrial HVAC technicians working on rooftops or with dangerous refrigerants, and many more. With the legalization of recreational pot, business owners are facing some serious challenges: liability if a stoned employee causes an accident, pushback from workers who resist random drug and alcohol tests, and the lack of a settled standard around either how much cannabis is too much, or how to measure it.
Here are a few things contractors should know in order to reduce the safety risks that may arise from cannabis legalization:
The legalization of marijuana does not mean that employees can be impaired at work. Employers will have the right to set rules for non-medical use of marijuana in the workplace in much the same way that employers currently set rules for use of alcohol. In particular, employers may prohibit the use of marijuana at work or during working hours and may also prohibit employees from attending work while impaired. This zero tolerance policy should be recorded in a written drug and alcohol policy.
The duty to accommodate does extend to medical marijuana.
As an employer, contractors have obligations under the Human Rights Code. If an employee is authorized to use cannabis for a medical purpose, the employer must treat it like any other medication and may have a duty to accommodate. The employer may be required to offer to the employee an alternative job that can be properly and safely done while using medical cannabis, if such a role exists.
However, the duty to accommodate is not without limits.
If accommodating the employee will raise serious safety and health concerns on the site or significantly increase costs of operations, contractors may be exempt from providing the accommodation. Accommodating an employee does not mean that you should ever let employees carry out their duties while impaired, especially when driving, operating heavy machinery, or working at heights.
Contracting companies’ best line of defence for the legalization of cannabis in Canada starts with an updated drug and alcohol policy.
Contractors should work with a legal adviser to ensure their drug and alcohol policies are clear and up to date. It is also important to ensure employees sign a written acknowledgment that they have read and understood the policy in its new and revised form
Train Your Employees About Dangers and Policy.
Contractors should educate employees about the dangers of using equipment and working at heights while under the influence of cannabis. Although there have been numerous public education campaigns about the dangers of alcohol impairment, there is less public education about the impact of cannabis on a person’s reaction time and alertness. Employees may be under the misimpression that cannabis has little impact on their ability to work safely. Employees should also be taught all aspects of the new drug and alcohol policy with a particular emphasis on recognizing impairment in others and what to do if you suspect someone is impaired on-site.
With the construction industry already heavily regulated, it’s important now more than ever to make certain your company is in full compliance.
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