Is your drug and alcohol policy up to date?

Legislation and balancing due diligence with privacy

In a series of articles, Workplace Safety North reviews (1) Statistics regarding alcohol and drug use in Canada, (2) Legislation and balancing due diligence with privacy, (3) Policy development and implementation, and (4) Roles and responsibilities of supervisors and workers, plus resource information below.

With the legalization of marijuana in Canada, this is a good time to review current occupational health and safety legislation, as well as your workplace health and safety policy regarding alcohol and drug use; and, if you don’t have a policy, it’s time to create one. 

What the law says

Unlike the United States and some European countries, Canada does not require or regulate testing in certain safety-sensitive industries such as transportation. Canadian employers face a variety of potential legal issues that may be related to alcohol and drugs, and are best addressed through consistent implementation of a clear and reasonable policy.

This can include addressing the liabilities associated with the actions of impaired employees at work, due diligence responsibility around workplace safety, actions in response to possession or trafficking of illicit drugs, and the duty to accommodate those with a chemical dependency in accordance with human rights provisions.

Onus on employers

“Occupational health and safety legislation places the onus on employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees,” says Barb Butler, consultant at Barb Butler & Associates, an Ontario company that specializes in the development of drug and alcohol policies for individual workplaces. “Employers must prove diligence in minimizing or eliminating all potential safety risks, including those associated with independent contractors.

“Organizations can be liable for any negligent or wrongful acts committed by an employee acting within the course of employment, including negligence for allowing an alcohol or drug impaired employee on a worksite or public highway once declared unfit to work. 

“Negligence can also occur when returning someone to a risk-sensitive job after treatment or a policy violation, but sufficient monitoring mechanisms are not in place and a substance-related incident results. The company policy should have provisions to address these responsibilities,” notes Butler.

Physical risk and perceptual risk

According to Sudbury Public Health Nurse Brenda Stankiewicz, preventing substance abuse is everybody’s responsibility. “I think what’s really important is for all workplaces to understand – although your colleague, your coworker, your staff may be an excellent worker, it’s that one time when they choose to use alcohol or another drug and show up at work and put everybody in danger. 

“Whether that’s a physical risk for other workers, or a perceptual risk when somebody walks in and sees somebody who’s acting funny or smelling a little strange after lunch. Those are perceptions that outside clients may have of your workplace based on the behaviour of one person. So I think it really is everybody’s responsibility to keep your workplace safe, and to keep the perceptions of your workplace as a safe operation.”

Substance abuse is considered a disability under the Ontario Human Rights Code, and it’s important that support and treatment is available. “Alcohol is a drug and it needs to be treated as a drug,” says Stankiewicz. “People who misuse it, use it inappropriately, they don’t need to be stigmatized, they need to be recognized and they need to be helped. And then, once they return to work, their recovery needs to be celebrated.”

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Read all articles in series: (1) Statistics regarding alcohol and drug use in Canada, (2) Legislation and balancing due diligence with privacy, (3) Policy development and implementation, and (4) Roles and responsibilities of supervisors and workers.


Substance abuse top health and safety risk at sawmills - WSN