Safety: How to determine impairment in the workplace


By Randy Dignard

Ottawa Construction News special feature

We have seen many companies develop and update their “Drug and Alcohol Policies and Procedures” over the last few months because of the recent legalization of cannabis in Canada. These policies may address the use of prescribed and recreational drugs, alcohol, and workers being fatigued. They should also address how your company will investigate possible worker impairment to back up their assumptions. Businesses that cannot show evidence or some sort of proof that a worker may actually be impaired could open themselves for huge liability.

If supervisors have reason to believe that a worker may be impaired by drugs, including cannabis, they have a responsibility to not let them work if they could hurt themselves or others. What qualifies a supervisor to make that determination of impairment? Do they have any idea what to look for?

Unfortunately, supervisors in Ontario are given the task of determining if a worker may be impaired by drugs or alcohol. Without some form of training that can teach them how to identify key indicators of impairment, supervisors might as well be guessing. Some of them may not be able to determine if a worker is impaired and may just let them work hoping for the best.

Businesses are at risk of discrimination charges against them if they are sending people home without just cause.

Example: a worker is enjoying some cannabis with some friends one night, and when that worker comes into work the next day, a supervisor questions him about the smell of weed on him. He tells the supervisor that his coat was hanging on a chair at home when cannabis was being smoked. The supervisor cannot ascertain if the smell is from last night or if he instead smoked a joint before coming into work. If the supervisor is sending him home because he smells, that is discrimination. If he says that he is sending the worker home because he may be high, what qualifies him to make that statement?

Ontario safety laws give the power to employers to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect workers. As long as a supervisor or manager believes that someone may be impaired, they must take action. Unfortunately, without the right training their actions or lack thereof may cause an increased liability to the business.

What training do supervisors need and where can you find it? Right now, there are very few places that can help you find this answer. Many companies are still trying to understand the new cannabis laws and how it may affect them, but some training courses are appearing that train supervisors in determining if your workers are impaired in the workplace.

For more information go to

            Randy Dignard is president of Construction Safety Trainers, phone (800) 219-8660.


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