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Training for Cannabis & Workplace Safety – Is There Any Alternative?

Thu, 08/02/2018

“Is providing workplace safety training related to the legalization of off-duty cannabis use something I should do, or something I have to do?”

It may not be clear to the naked eye but, with any change that can introduce a unique hazard in the workplace – employers are required to implement a resource that can effectively inform the workforce of those potential and actual hazards.

And, yes, employers have – to some extent – seen the potential and actual workplace hazards that result from impairment from cannabis (as workers have been using it illegally or with medical authorizations).  However, never on the scale and frequency that will be seen come legalization.  Evidence suggests quite strongly that use of cannabis and therefore impairment from cannabis will rise extensively once legal.

Not only that, but our social interpretation of cannabis in Canada will be completely different come October 17th.  Impairment from cannabis (without medical authorization) was and is illegal prior to the legalization date.  So, not only were you impaired at work, but there was also a level of criminality attached to its use.  Come legalization day +1, that illegality and perception of criminal behaviour will slowly wash away.  But employers will still need to protect their workplaces from impairment.  And, they can no longer depend on the law to deter the use of cannabis while employees are off-duty.

So, because it will be perfectly legal to use cannabis off-duty, and THC stays in the system for weeks, but there’s currently no ironclad method for testing impairment from cannabis, and even if there were – drug testing is very stringent in this country, organizations have very few options for protecting their people.  However, knowledge is power.  And, in this case, it’s a right.

You won’t find any regulatory documentation that currently stipulates that you must specifically train your workforce on the hazards resulting from cannabis impairment.  However, your provincial Occupation Health & Safety Act or the Canada Labour Code (federally) provides a blanket statement, under which, all workplace hazards fall.  Under the law, employers are required to inform workers of their rights – one of those rights being, the “Right to Know” about potential and actual hazards related to their work.

Let’s get beyond whatever perceived taboos we collectively have around this issue and boil it down to what it really is in relation to workplace safety – a unique potential or actual hazard.  Impairment from any substance or condition is a hazard, let alone cannabis.  But impairment can present itself in different ways, from one substance or condition to the next.  And since cannabis causes unique and varying impairment (commonly resulting in misjudgment of time and hinderance of depth perception - among others), it can easily contribute to hazardous situations.

So, with that granted, employers are required under the Act or Code to address this new and unique hazard by educating their workforce on the issue.  What would be even better is if you implement a resource that proves due diligence on the subject by providing employees with the opportunity to demonstrate their competence and understanding.  What is the alternative to training?  Sitting on your hands and hoping that an incident related to cannabis impairment doesn’t occur.  Because if it does, and you didn’t provide your workforce with their “Right to Know”, you will be charged with criminal negligence.

Following the rules is a much easier path in the long run.  Look at it this way – if you train your workforce and empower them with information, and an incident still occurs, at least you’ll be able to sleep at night knowing you took reasonable precautions in attempting to prevent an incident.