Pubdate: Mon, 15 May 2017
Source: Telegram, The (CN NF)
Copyright: 2017 The Telegram
Author: Glen Whiffen
Page: A1


Knowing more about impairment key to setting fair and safe workplace
rules: expert

Alex Boucher says the looming legalization of marijuana is opening up
a whole new frontier for employers.

He's an expert in wellness areas, including disability management and
workplace accommodation, and works with employers, unions and

He acknowledged that medical marijuana use has posed challenges in the
workplace, and that legalized pot will add an extra level of challenge
for employers wanting to be fair and yet ensure the workplace is safe.

He participated in a recent presentation of the Canadian Pension and
Benefits Institute, Atlantic Region, for employers in the St. John's
area, titled "Marijuana in the Workplace."

"Employers are saying 'what exactly do you mean by legalizing
marijuana in terms of employees? What policies do I need to change?
And what's the impact going to be on the medical marijuana, because if
people can take it without a prescription, what do I do with people
whom I am accommodating already who are taking it with a
prescription?'" Boucher said. Access to medical marijuana falls under
federal jurisdiction, but provinces establish regulations for job sites.

According to Service NL, under Newfoundland and Labrador's
Occupational Health and Safety legislation, employers are expected to
establish programs, policies and procedures to address impairment by
substances such as alcohol, drugs (prescription or illicit) or any
other physical or mental condition that impairs an employee's ability
to carry out their duties in a way that doesn't endanger safety.

"Prescription medications, including marijuana, are not specifically
addressed in the Occupational Health and Safety Act and Regulations,
however, Section 26 of the regulations deals with impairment and
intoxicating substances in general," Service NL said in a statement to
The Telegram.

Boucher says employers are going to have to come up with rules for
specific circumstances.

"What is the substance that an employee is ingesting and what's the
job? What's the impairment and how do you address it? So, they will
still have to have their zero tolerance for recreational use in the
workplace and, then ask how will they address it if it's a medical
piece, and how will they address it if someone is impaired?

"Because right now the research is showing that (marijuana) stays in
your system for 24 hours, or the impact of it. What if someone had
some on Sunday night at a barbecue and they come to work Monday
morning and they are still impaired, and they are in a
safety-sensitive job - they are a school bus driver, they are a crane
operator? So what we wanted to ensure is that employers knew which
aspects of the workplace would be impacted and then what kind of steps
to take to address it."

Creating fair policies

Boucher says the issue is bigger than drug use -illicit or otherwise.
It's about creating fair policies to accommodate and adapt to
employees' unique circumstances.

"Create a policy around what you would do if an employee comes to work
impaired for any reason, whether it's because of a medical condition
because of a drug they are taking, because of fatigue - like new
parents who don't sleep at night can come to work and be unsafe; so,
rather than being focused specifically on marijuana, the perspective
we provided is take the word 'marijuana' out of it, and create your
policies to be adaptive."

While the Superior Court of Ontario recently set a cutoff level of 10
nanograms per millilitre of blood for impairment by marijuana, the
federal government has recommended the limit be set at five, Boucher

"There is evidence of impairment at 10 (nanograms per millilitre of
blood) for sure, but how long it stays, how long that impairment
lasts, and what that impairment means is still unclear," he said.
"Part of that is because it's been an illicit substance for so long
and that doesn't inspire a lot of researchers to work with it. You
can't do a lot of human trials on illegal drugs.

"But now that it's going to open up. You are going to see that there
are a lot of providers out there now that are looking at breath tests,
blood tests, cheek swabs. …Rapid tests that can be done to determine
if someone is under the influence. … That will evolve now, it will be
much more in the public realm.

"But on the flip side, if you look at an Oxycontin, or even a
Robaxacet over the counter without a prescription, if someone takes
two of those, it says you should not drive equipment, but we still
don't have an objective way to measure how impaired someone is."

Boucher said employers are going to have to break down what each job
requires and make sure the individual is able to perform their duties

"(They also) need to ask employees when they are taking medication to
self-identify that 'I am taking a medication that may impair my
function and I need the workplace to help me understand and help test
it against the job.'

"Medical marijuana has broken ground in a lot of ways, because it has
caused employers to start to assess, really, the employee's function.
The challenge with medicinal marijuana right now though is that it is
not regulated, there is no control in terms of strength, dosage,
content. All that is patient-driven. So the only part that is
medically controlled is documenting the need and the number of grams
per day. …

"The employers are now trying to create the parameters, the 24-hour
parameter. Those things will start to get challenged and that's where
the courts will start to create the rules.

"What medicinal and the legalization is doing is like a catalyst - it
is causing employers to crack open their drug and alcohol policy and
to ask, 'Does this still make sense?'"

Tomorrow: Waiting game for worker in limbo
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MAP posted-by: Matt