TUESDAY, APRIL 17, 2018
KIM SLADE

 

April is National Cannabis Awareness Month, and as we move towards the annual 4/20 celebrations that will be occurring later this week, it seems like a good time to talk about Cannabis legalization and its impact on the workplace.

 

Many employers don’t feel like they’re ready for cannabis legalization. In fact, according to a recent survey by PSHSA, Business of Cannabis and HRPA, 71% of employers aren’t prepared. You may also have the same question if you sit down to watch the news and hear the stories of workers and supervisors smoking and consuming edibles on the job. It makes you stop and think – am I ready?

 

While some declare that legalization is “no big deal” and “nothing is changing”, others sense a disaster lurking around the corner that a dreadful accident will happen. Does legalization mean workers will start consuming cannabis on their lunch breaks, or smoking up on the job? Unfortunately, the reality is that we will see all of these things, not because of legalization, but because we already have in the past. I honestly don’t think legalization will change the mindset of someone who currently smokes before going to work or while at work, which is why we need to be prepared to have important workplace conversations about impairment on the job.

 

One of the saddest events in Ontario’s recent history was the swing stage collapse that occurred on Christmas Eve in 2009. For those of you who don’t know the story, six men were working on balcony repairs on a Toronto apartment complex. The swing stage they were using to do the work collapsed, causing four of the men to fall to their deaths because they were not wearing fall arrest equipment. One person was seriously injured because he was not wearing his fall arrest equipment properly, and one person, who was properly wearing his harness, survived without physical injury. Toxicology analysis determined that three of the four people, one of whom was a supervisor, had marijuana in their systems from recent ingestion.

 

More recently, we heard about the Toronto police officers who ingested edibles, requiring them to be rescued by another officer due to hallucinations while on duty. And then there was the case just last week when work on Toronto’s Eglinton Crosstown LRT was halted because a resident in the area noticed workers smoking up while on the job. We’ve also heard reports where, in the first 6 months of the testing program, 2% (or 1,269) TTC employees tested positive for drug or alcohol use, with 50% of non-compliant results involving cannabis.

 

So, based on these relatively easy-to-find examples, we know that, potentially, some workers are already working while impaired. (I say “potentially” because there are arguments to be made about current drug testing methods and their ability to determine current impairment vs. past use of cannabis, but that is a topic for another blog.) Regardless of whether or note we agree with legalization, or if we think that legalization will or won’t change what is happening in our workplaces, I think it deserves a review of workplace policies and a reminder of workplace expectations with regards to impairment on the job. This is a first step in getting ready for legalization.

 

And maybe, just maybe, Cannabis Awareness Month is the ideal time to have that discussion.

 

If you think you need to update your policies, here are five tips to get you started:

  1. Focus on detection of impairment and providing a safe workplace.
  2. Identify safety sensitive positions.
  3. Provide programs that emphasize awareness, education, and training with respect to drug use.
  4. Focus on rehabilitation vs. punishment.
  5. Seek legal counsel when developing policies related to medical and recreational use of cannabis.

 

To learn more about the workplace implications of cannabis, click here. And don’t forget to sign up for one of our upcoming webinars on Cannabis in the Workplace:

April 18, 2018: Understanding the Signs and Symptoms of Cannabis Impairment and Potential Impacts on Workplaces

April 25, 2018: The Basics of Cannabis Legalization and Workplace Policy

Mary 14, 2018: A Cannabis Huddle for HR Professionals: What Do You Need To Know?

 

About the Author

Kim Slade is the Director of Emerging Markets and Commercialization at Public Services Health & Safety Association. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English and Communications and also has an Adult Education Certificate from OISE University of Toronto. Kim is also part of the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Technical Committees on Occupational Health and Safety Training as well as the Paramedic Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace Standard. She has been in the field of OHS training and education for the past 15 years.