Pubdate: Wed, 17 Jan 2018
Source: Victoria Standard, The (CN NS)
Copyright: 2018 The Victoria Standard
Author: Carolyn Barber
Page: 1


Victoria Cooperative Fisheries GM Osborne Burke says employers need
more time for training and education

When it comes to consuming substances that carry the risk of
impairment, what employees ingest on their own time can become the
employer's business. In safety-sensitive worksites, establishing a
clear drug and alcohol policy is paramount. So too is encouraging
employees with a substance abuse problem to seek help.

Victoria Cooperative Fisheries (VCF) in Neil's Harbour has long been
ahead of the curve when it comes to a comprehensive workplace drug and
alcohol policy. With cannabis legalization on the horizon, VCF'S
Health and Safety Committee has taken steps to ensure management and
employees have a clear understanding of their roles and
responsibilities post-legalization.

"We're trying to stay two steps ahead of where we want to be," said
VCF General Manager Osborne Burke. "I think the government made a
serious mistake in pushing forward for July 1. There's been little
discussion of health and safety in the workplace. The federal
government needs to maybe hold back a year to take a better look at
the workplace. We as employers have responsibilities to all our
employees. We can't allow somebody to come into work potentially
impaired. The level of impairment and the time it takes for cannabis
to leave your system is totally different than alcohol," said Burke.

According to the World Health Organization, "Cannabis impairs
psychomotor performance in a wide variety of tasks, such as motor
coordination, divided attention, and operative tasks of many types;
human performance on complex machinery can be impaired for as long as
24 hours after smoking as little as 20 mg of THC in cannabis." Health
Canada concurs with these findings.

Last summer, the VCF Health and Safety Committee invited pharmacist
and workplace drug and alcohol consultant/educator Nadine Wentzell to
facilitate educational sessions for VCF employees. Topics covered
included physician-authorized use of medical cannabis, how
prescription/non-prescription drugs might impair work performance, and
employee/employer responsibilities when substance abuse is identified.

Employers already have a duty to accommodate employees with medical
authorization to use cannabis. Employees in turn must provide proof of
medical authorization, sufficient medical information showing the need
to ingest cannabis, frequency/amount/method of ingestion and when
ingestion occurs. Employees are responsible for reporting to work fit
for duty. Employers in turn have a duty to assist employees suffering
from substance addiction.

AT VCF, this duty falls on the shoulders of its first full-time Health
and Safety Coordinator Roland Michaelis who started with the company a
year ago. Michaelis has worked as a safety and risk management
consultant since 1994. His job is protecting VCF employees, enforcing
organization's drug and alcohol policy, and maintaining a workplace
culture whereby employees feel safe self-identifying if they are
abusing drugs or alcohol. When a substance abuse issue arises, his job
is to assist employees back to health through addiction treatment and

"We're a small community. We value our employees. They're hard to
replace. If we can help an employee with a substance abuse problem,
we're more than happy to do that," said Michaelis, who has support
from the top.

"Our message to our employees is 'look we care about you folks'. If
people have substance abuse issues we will work with them. That's
going to cost lots of dollars. But in the long term it's a significant
benefit to the individual, the community and the family," said Burke.
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