Legalized cannabis: Address the safety and accommodation issues


Industry Manufacturing cannabis CCOHS manufacturing Safety workplace

Put policies and procedures in place to keep everyone safe.

Work with the health and safety committee to update policies that address the risk of impairment. PHOTO: ADOBE

What does the legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada (as of Oct. 17) mean for manufacturers? The key issue is impairment. Review policies and procedures because, regardless of the source, impairment affects focus, judgment and the ability to do jobs safely.

Legalization of cannabis use may not change existing policies and procedures, but it provides an opportunity to ensure they address both therapeutic and recreational use of the drug. Cannabis laws vary by jurisdiction. Each province and territory has the ability to set its own rules, including the legal minimum age, where pot is purchased and where its use is allowed. Confirm which rules apply in your area.

There are many potential causes of impairment including: the use of legal and illegal substances such as alcohol, cannabis, drugs (over the counter, prescription, illicit) and certain medications; as well as factors such as fatigue, life stresses and certain medical conditions.

Like other sources of impairment, cannabis affects concentrating, thinking and decision-making. Coordination also suffers and reaction time slows down. This affects motor skills, including the ability to drive. It can also increase anxiety and trigger panic attacks. In some cases, it causes paranoia and hallucinations. When inhaling cannabis, the chemicals pass from the lungs into the blood, which carries them throughout the body and to the brain. Ingesting cannabis delays the effects because the chemicals must first pass through the digestive system.


Shared responsibility

Health and safety is a responsibility shared by everyone. Employees must understand how impairment affects their safety and the safety of others. Employers are responsible for developing, implementing and monitoring hazard prevention programs, while managers and supervisors watch for signs of cannabis impairment and respond appropriately.

Work with the health and safety committee to create and implement a plan that identifies possible workplace hazards, including the impacts of possible impairment. The plan also covers appropriate corrective action to prevent incident or injuries. Workers are required under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to report hazards as they see them.

Keep the focus general to ensure the policy is relevant to all sources of impairment and take a fitness-to-work approach. Also called fit-to-work, this assessment is done to ensure an employee can safely do a specific job or task.

Elements of an effective policy include:

  • Defining impairment.
  • Addressing impairment from all causes.
  • Stating if the item is allowed on premise, and if so, under what circumstances.
  • Educating workers on policies, programs and support, such as employee assistance programs (EAPs).
  • Training workers, supervisors and managers on how to identify signs of suspected impairment and respond appropriately.
  • Describing when accommodation will be considered (for example, workers with medical needs or disabilities).
  • Explaining how disciplinary actions will be conducted, when necessary.

Assess each situation and determine its effect on the workplace, and whether there’s a need to fulfil your company’s duty to accommodate in terms of therapeutic use and disability due to substance dependence. Base accommodation on assistance from a medical assessment and collaboration with the employee.

Testing typically reveals the presence of a substance, but not the level of impairment. Generally, human rights legislation does not support testing. Seek legal advice before doing so.

Addressing potential impairment from cannabis is part of the workplace’s hazard assessment process. Reduce the potential impact by having the appropriate mechanisms in place, provide clear guidance to all stakeholders, and apply policies and programs fairly and consistently.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) in Hamilton contributed this article. CCOHS provides information, training, education, management systems and solutions that support health and safety programs and the prevention of injury and illness in the workplace. Visit

This article appeared in the November-December 2018 print issue of PLANT.





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