Recreational cannabis is here. Now what?

As it was before October 17 and as it is after October 17, it’s not safe to work impaired in New Brunswick. In fact, it’s against the law.

There’s a saying: “You couldn’t show up drunk or stoned before, and you can’t show up drunk or stoned now.”

While true, this line may be overly simplistic. With increased access to cannabis, there’s heightened concern of workplace impairment. And addiction or dependency, unfortunately, is a reality for many New Brunswickers.

So is legalized recreational cannabis something new to worry about, or is it serving as a reminder to increase our understanding of any substance that could endanger our workplace? Is it a call to action to review our existing safeguards, and strengthen them to help ensure health and safety for employees? The answer to both questions is yes.

In New Brunswick, both employees and employers work together, under the internal responsibility system, to help keep everyone safe. Protection from impairment is no different.
 
EMPLOYERS MUST BE PROACTIVE

Employers must take every reasonable precaution to ensure their workers’ health and safety. This includes providing a workplace free from impairment, regardless of whether the impairment comes from cannabis, fatigue, alcohol, over-the-counter, prescription or illegal drugs.

If an employer suspects someone is impaired in the workplace, they must take steps to ensure it doesn’t risk the safety of the worker suspected of impairment, or the safety of others.

Employers don’t need to determine if someone is impaired; rather, they’re obligated to act when they have reasonable suspicion of impairment. 

POLICIES ARE CRITICAL

Every workplace should have an impairment policy that clearly defines impairment, and addresses recreational cannabis use.

The policy should guide managers and supervisors in recognizing and addressing impairment. In addition, it would include how the organization will work with employees who may need accommodation in their work tasks as well as the disciplinary action expected when required. 

COMMUNICATE THE POLICY AND ASK QUESTIONS

Employers should share the policy and procedures with employees and make sure that they are understood. The policy should also be posted in a prominent location and made readily accessible by other means, such as sharing it through staff meetings, e-mail or other appropriate communication methods. 

DUTY TO ACCOMMODATE

Employers have a duty to accommodate workers who have been prescribed impairment-inducing drugs or have a drug or alcohol addiction. Addiction to drugs or alcohol is recognized as a disability under human rights legislation. Accommodation may include, among other things, keeping a worker employed while they pursue treatment.

Keep in mind, in these circumstance, the rules of maintaining an impairment-free workplace still apply.

For more information on accommodation, please contact the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission

TRAINING MUST INCLUDE FAIRNESS AND IMPARTIALITY

Managers and anyone in a supervisory role must be provided with the knowledge and tools needed to address impairment – to recognize it, assess it and react to it.

Since impairment symptoms can vary from person to person, there may be concerns of objectivity when assessing a worker’s possible impairment. The impairment policy and associated training to supervisors should include equity and fairness. 

EMPLOYEES MUST KNOW THEIR RESPONSIBILITIES

Employees must present themselves fit for work. They must conduct themselves in a way to ensure their own health and safety and that of other persons in, at, or near your workplace.

They’re also required to report suspected impairment of a co-worker. Like the employer, an employee must act on “suspected” impairment. This means, they needn’t know for a fact that a co-worker is impaired. Suspicion alone requires reporting to a supervisor or manager.

Employees must also disclose if they have an addiction or prescription that may put themselves at risk of being impaired while at work. 

WHAT ABOUT MEDICAL CANNABIS?

By law, workers must inform the employer if they are at risk of impairment – from cannabis, other drugs, alcohol or fatigue. While all medical cannabis can cause impairment if taken in high enough dosages, some varieties that contain very little to no tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), but rather contain cannabidiol (CBD), and are less likely to cause impairment because of their chemical compositions.

In these cases, an employee prescribed medical cannabis should inform their employer, highlighting the content of the prescription and the risk of impairment.

Employers should have a basic understanding of medical cannabis and their responsibilities in accommodation as well as safety.

You can learn more about medical cannabis, including WorkSafeNB’s policy, here

JHSCs, HEALTH AND SAFETY REPRESENTATIVES AND WELLNESS COMMITTEES CAN HELP

Joint health and safety committees, workplace health and safety representatives and wellness committees can be excellent resources. They can help safeguard the workforce from impairment.

Here are a few tips:

  • Develop or update your impairment policy through consultation. Include management and employees with the joint health and safety committee or workplace health and safety representative and wellness committee.
  • Host information sessions in collaboration with management. Share the impairment policy and offer opportunities for questions.
  • Share a Q&A, developed in partnership with management, though your organization’s intranet on by posting on bulletin boards.
  • Host a lunch and learn on addictions. Explain organizational policies, and share offerings that can help workers seek support for addictions and dependencies.
  • Recommend employer provide confidential services through a third party to help workers who have drug or alcohol concerns or addiction.
  • Encourage all employees and employers to download WorkSafeNB’s Guide to Legislation app (NB OHS Guide). The free app has a topic on impairment.

Every worker is entitled to a safe and healthy workplace. We all play a critical role in ensuring every New Brunswicker returns home safely at the end of each work day. After all, home is where workplace safety matters most.

Do you have a tip that can help workplaces stay safe from impairment? Share it with us on Twitter (@WorkSafeNB or @SecuriTravailNB) or e-mail us at communications@ws-ts.nb.ca and we’ll share it for you!

If you have questions on workplace impairment, please call us at 1 800 222-9775 or visit worksafenb.ca.

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