Sudbury

Substance abuse top health and safety concern for sawmill industry

Substance abuse might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of workplace health and safety, but workers and managers in the sawmill industry say it's one of their biggest concerns.

Workplace Safety North risk assessment finds drug and alcohol use #1 risk on the job

A sawmill risk assessment workshop held by Workplace Safety North identified substance abuse — including alcohol, recreational drugs and prescriptions drugs — as the number one health and safety concern of workers and managers. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Substance abuse might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of workplace health and safety, but workers, and managers in the sawmill industry say it's one of their biggest concerns.

Workplace Safety North recently held a risk assessment workshop with experts in the industry. They examined 86 health and safety concerns. A survey of workers and managers determined that substance abuse — including alcohol, recreational drugs and prescriptions drugs — was the number one safety risk.

Tom Welton, industrial director at Workplace Safety North, was surprised by the results — even though he had personally encountered substance use when he worked as a logging supervisor in northern Ontario.

Substance use isn't tracked the way other workplace risks like slips and falls are Welton says.

"This specific topic really is not something that's captured when an employer submits a Form 7, when an injury happens in the workplace."

More research on workplace substance use needed

Statistics on alcohol and drugs in the workplace are hard to come by at all.

"The type of data that's needed for understanding substance use affecting the workplace hasn't been as readily studied as other areas," says Shawna Meister, a policy analyst for the Canadian Centre of Substance Use and Addiction.

Meister says conducting this kind of research is a difficult undertaking because it requires a lot of resources.

"Because there's no specific studies, I unfortunately don't have specific data as to the impact of substance use on any one particular industry."

But that is starting to change as industries are becoming more interested in the issue. Meister attributes some of this interest to the federal government's upcoming legislation on cannabis.

"There's certainly a willingness by many employers to look at this more closely. We certainly get a lot of requests from employers, so it's definitely an increasing interest."

Cannabis legalization increasing interest

Cannabis legislation is top-of-mind for EACOM Timber Corporation, one of the companies involved in the Workplace Safety North workshop.

EACOM Timber spokesperson Christine Leduc says the company is considering changes to its drug and alcohol policy in light of cannabis legislation. (Supplied)

"Before this study or even before legalization, we have in place a health and safety policy and we do have policies in place for drugs and alcohol," says Christine Leduc, the director of public affairs for EACOM.

Leduc says the company is exploring ways that policy might change in light of the legislation, including the potential for drug testing and more employee training.

"This is really going to be a matter of making sure that we engage all of these employees. That there's a lot of collaboration between the manager and the employees. That there's some ownership and involvement and accountability within all of the employees."

Workplace Safety North is also hoping to conduct its own analysis of substance use with partners in the forestry industry, to help develop prevention plans for employers.

About the Author

Robin De Angelis is a multimedia journalist based in southwestern Ontario. She has previously worked as a reporter covering local news in Sudbury. Get in touch on Twitter @RobinElizabethD or by email robin.deangelis@cbc.ca

With files from Erik White