Is your drug and alcohol policy up to date?

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Roles and responsibilities of supervisors and workers

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.

Workplace Safety North Health and Safety Specialist at on-site consultationWith the December 2016 release of the final report from the Marijuana Task Force and the legalization of marijuana in Canada, this is a good time to review 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. 

Supervisor: Roles and responsibilities

Regardless of personal opinions about alcohol and drug use, the fact is an individual’s mental and physical abilities are adversely affected by alcohol and other drugs. It all comes down to providing a safe workplace for all workers, at all times, in all situations. Supervisors and leaders are instrumental in successful implementation of all workplace health and safety policies.

  • Show leadership and knowledge when communicating and implementing alcohol and drug policy
  • Monitor team behaviour and performance
  • Recognize signs and symptoms of substance use
  • Take action on reported or suspected alcohol or drug use
  • Provide information on Employee Assistance Program if available
  • Document performance and behaviour concerns
  • Meet with worker to discuss observations and concerns – focus on performance issues, do not diagnose or moralize; develop an action plan

“When I was younger, I worked as a logging supervisor in northern Ontario,” says Tom Welton, Industrial Director at Workplace Safety North (WSN), “and had to react quickly to these type of situations while handling several competing priorities around production and scheduling.

“We were working in a remote area and I had to deal with a worker that was quite intoxicated. Workers were using extremely dangerous equipment like chainsaws, mechanical harvesters, feller bunchers, and excavators – you absolutely have to have all your wits about you in terms of safety – so, as the supervisor, I told this worker to hop into my truck and I drove him back to the camp to sleep it off, and he never did drink on the job again.”

Having workers travelling to the workplace in personal vehicles complicates the challenge for the supervisor, according to Welton. Good communication between the supervisor and workers, and having the supervisor reacting immediately when information comes to light regarding a potential alcohol or drug use issue is essential. “The safety of the worker in question and other workers must remain the supervisor’s ultimate priority.”

In a crisis

If a supervisor is aware of an employee who is exhibiting signs of intoxication such as being disoriented, smelling of alcohol, slurred speech, unsteady gait, or using an inappropriate tone with coworkers, they need to take action.

  • Escort the employee to a private area to discuss their behaviour
  • Ask another supervisor to serve as a reliable witness
  • State concerns to the employee and have them explain what is going on
  • If applicable, notify senior management and union representative
  • Based on employee response, suspend employee (with paid leave) until a formal investigation is completed
  • Provide information on Employee Assistance Program if available
  • Have employee escorted home; do not allow them to drive.

Complete an incident report, including: events preceding the incident, identification of employee’s unsafe work practices, that the situation has been discussed with the employee, that management and union reps were notified, and any recommendations made to the employee.

Worker: Roles and responsibilities

Both individuals and companies have a shared responsibility for safety:

  • Have an understanding of the workplace policy on alcohol and drug use
  • Take responsibility to ensure own safety and the safety of others
  • Comply with work standards to complete work in a safe manner
  • Use medications responsibly, be aware of potential side effects, and notify supervisor of any potential unsafe side effects, where applicable
  • Seek treatment if necessary
  • Encourage co-workers to seek help when there is a potential breach or breach of policy

As demonstrated with seatbelt safety, and drinking and driving awareness campaigns, what might have been acceptable in the past is no longer appropriate. “People are much more aware of how alcohol and other drugs can affect motor skills, cognitive capabilities, and general well-being,” says Welton. “And keep in mind some people are more sensitive to the effects than others. That’s why in safety-sensitive jobs like mining, transportation, and forestry, you need a zero-tolerance policy, with the aim of helping people get treatment. Addiction is an illness and classified as a disability; no one should be stigmatized or judged for having a disability.”

Conclusion: Fit for work vs. ‘the hangover effect’

Interestingly, statistics show that when it comes to alcohol and other drugs we cannot underestimate the influence of our behaviour while “off the job.” Many incidents occur “the morning after” when blood alcohol levels may still be high. When a worker is hungover and the senses are dulled from the ill effects of too much alcohol or drugs in the system – it’s prime time for workplace incidents to occur, especially if machinery or equipment is involved.

Researchers found a correlation “between the frequency of being ‘hungover’ at work” and other workplace events such as feeling sick at work, sleeping on the job, and having problems with tasks or co-workers. In one study, the hangover effect was demonstrated by pilots tested in flight simulators. There was still “evidence of impairment 14 hours after pilots reached blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) of between 0.10 per cent and 0.12 per cent…and that pilots were still significantly impaired eight hours after reaching a BAC of 0.10 per cent. 

Based on usage statistics and legislation, the guiding principles of alcohol and drug policies continue to include a shared responsibility for safety; an understanding of how behaviour on and off the job affects safety; and balancing safety and privacy interests. 

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.

For more information, please contact


Substance abuse top health and safety risk at sawmills - WSN

Impairment and Workplace Health and Safety - Ministry of Labour

Cannabis legalization - Government of Ontario

Many questions need examining to establish effects of legalized cannabis on work safety...what we know — and don’t — about OHS implications of legalized cannabis - Institute for Work and Health


Resources regarding drug, alcohol, cannabis, substance use, impairment - WSN

Much of the information in this article comes from three main sources, which include research, guidelines, sample policies and much more:

Let’s Take Action on Alcohol Problems in the Workplace – Ontario Public Health Association. Includes how to develop and implement an alcohol and drug policy; sample policy; resource list; three checklists: (1) Policy Process; (2) Policy Content; (3) Policy Implementation.

Alcohol and the Workplace: Toolkit – Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health

General Information

A Framework for the Legalization and Regulation of Cannabis in Canada - Final Report - Government of Canada

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety

Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse

Canadian Mental Health Association

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

How to prepare an occupational health and safety policy - Ontario Ministry of Labour