Impairment in workplaces 'nothing new under the sun,' safety expert says

With just three months to go until cannabis becomes legal in Canada, a health and safety agency in northern Ontario is reminding employers to update their safety policies.

Sawmills, logging industry cited as facing challenges in the past, says Workplace Safety North

Workplace Safety North is urging workplaces to update their policies to bolster rules and provide clarity around impairment on the job. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

With just three months to go until cannabis becomes legal in Canada, a health and safety agency in northern Ontario is reminding employers to update their safety policies.

Workplace Safety North has been helping businesses to prepare new safety rules to include stipulations about impairment by drugs.

John Levesque, director of information and educational services with WSN,  told CBC News that both workers and employers need to understand what is expected of them before the legislation is approved.

"Really there are strict restrictions in terms of recreational cannabis," Levesque said.

"Once it's legalized in October, persons will only be able to use cannabis in a private residence."

"That includes a porch or backyard, or if you live in an apartment or condo you would basically be restricted to using cannabis in your unit or on your balcony."

Main concern: impairment

Under the Cannabis Act, marijuana will not be allowed to be consumed in the workplace.

"Obviously the main concern is the impairment, not so much the use of cannabis," Levesque said.

As for the history of impairment in the workplace, Levesque said "there is nothing new under the sun."

"Impairment is something that workplaces have had to wrestle with for decades."

Northern Ontario, for example, is home to high-hazard industries, which compound the problem for employers.

"In the past, Workplace Safety North has conducted risk assessments in cooperation with sawmills and logging industries," Levesque said. "And the results were that in sawmills, substance use was considered the top health and safety risk."

Levesque added that with all the talk of legalizing cannabis, now would be a good time for workplaces to review their existing health and safety policies.

"The Occupational Health and Safety Act is clear that legal responsibility also applies to workers," he said. "Workers need to report hazards as they see them."

"It's an internal culture that needs to develop around these issues to eliminate impairment."

Hear the interview here:

By late October, anyone over the age of 18 will be able to smoke small amounts of pot in their homes. The director of information and education services at Workplace Safety North, John Levesque, says workplaces need to update safety policies to make sure there isn't impairment on-the-job. 7:11

With files from Angela Gemmill

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