Impairment - Drugs and Alcohol
Impairment in the workplace can have severe consequences. Impairment can be caused by fatigue, alcohol consumption, drug use (over the counter, prescription, cannabis, illegal), etc. There are key steps that workplaces must take to prevent and manage impairment in the workplace. Most important is to have appropriate policies and procedures in place, and to provide clear guidance to all persons in the workplace.
As an employer you must:
- Understand your general responsibility to take every reasonable precaution to protect your employees’ health and safety, including preventing impairment from happening in your workplace.
- Make sure that your employees comply with the Act and regulations.
As with many other requirements, employers should work with the joint health and safety committee to create and implement an impairment prevention and management policy. The policy should include the impacts of possible impairment, and outline the appropriate corrective actions to take if impairment occurs in the workplace and to prevent incidents or injuries.
Employers also have the duty under human rights legislation to accommodate individuals with a disability (including a disability from substance dependence) or a diagnosed medical condition. Any prescribed medication or treatment, including cannabis authorized for medical purposes, that may cause impairment or result in lowered functionality will need to be included in the workplace policy.
While the employer is ultimately responsible for all the provisions mentioned above, the supervisor has a vital role to play in the safety of their teams. As a supervisor, you must:
- Provide the information and instruction necessary to ensure their health and safety
- Enforce company safety rules, programs, codes of practice and procedures, including ensuring employees comply with the requirements below.
As an employee, you must:
- Work in compliance with the Act and regulations , and
- Conduct yourself in a way so you do not endanger yourself or other people in the workplace. This includes avoiding impairment while at work and disclosing to your employer your need to use prescription drugs that could cause impairment, as well as drug and alcohol dependencies that could increase your risk of impairment and injuries to you and your co-workers.
Developing a Workplace Policy on Impairment
The policy should use terms such as “impairment” or “under the influence,” as this approach will make the policy relevant to all sources of impairment. The policy should clearly indicate the employer’s position on the use, possession, or being under the influence of substances while at work.
It is important to tailor the policy to meet your workplace’s specific needs. Policy elements, as listed in the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS)’s publication Workplace Strategies: Risk of Impairment from Cannabis , could include:
- Statement of the policy’s purpose and objectives
- Definition of substance use and substance dependence
- Definition of what the employer considers to be impairment
- Statement of who is covered by the policy and/or program
- Statement of the employee’s rights to confidentiality
- A way for employees to confidentially report when they feel they are unable to conduct themselves safely (may be impaired and unable to do their job safely), or have been prescribed a medication that may cause impairment
- Statement regarding if either medical/therapeutic or non-medical substances are allowed on the premises, or under what situations they would be allowed
- Arrangements de for employee education (such as general awareness regarding substance-dependence)
- Arrangements for educating and training employees, supervisors, and others to identify impaired behaviour and what steps to take
- Provisions for helping those with a substance dependence
- Processes for accommodation, and return to work / remain at work planning
- Statement of under what circumstances substance testing will be conducted, as well as the criteria for testing and interpretation of test results, if applicable
- Provision for a hierarchy of disciplinary actions
The employer should develop a clear statement of what is considered to be impairment within their workplace. Note, however, that it is not the role of the supervisor or employer to diagnose a possible substance use or dependency problem. Common signs and symptoms of impairment include the following and may help you in the early identification of an employee who might need help. Note that these signs and symptoms alone or in combination do not necessarily mean that somebody has a substance use problem, and the signs will be different from person to person. However, they may be indicators that your employee is in trouble or in need of aid.
- Physical: poor appearance/hygiene, sweating, headaches, tremors, diarrhea, restlessness, slurred speech, unsteady gait, etc.
- Psychosocial: mood fluctuations, inappropriate verbal or emotional responses, irritability, confusion, memory lapses, isolation, lack of focus, lying, etc.
- Performance: calling in sick frequently or working more overtime, arriving late/leaving early, extended breaks, errors in judgment, deterioration in performance, non-compliance with policies, changes in quality of work, etc.
Supervisors and employers must enforce policies fairly and equitably. Supervisors should be educated and trained on how to recognize possible impairment and how the workplace policies should be applied.
More information, including sample policies and how to respond to possible impairment in the workplace, is available from the Atlantic Canada Council on Addiction: Problematic Substance Use that Impacts the Workplace , and the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety’s publication Workplace Strategies: Risk of Impairment from Cannabis.
New Brunswick Human Rights Act includes drug and alcohol dependency as a physical disability that employers are required to accommodate in the workplace. More information is available from the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission.
OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY ACT
S.N.B. 1983, c. O-0.2
DUTIES OF EMPLOYERS, OWNERS, CONTRACTORS, SUB-CONTRACTORS, SUPERVISORS, EMPLOYEES AND SUPPLIERS
Section 9 Duties of employer
9. (1) Every employer shall
(a) take every reasonable precaution to ensure the health and safety of its employees;
(b) comply with this Act, the regulations and any order made in accordance with this Act or the regulations; and
(c) ensure that its employees comply with this Act, the regulations and any order made in accordance with this Act or the regulations.
(2) Without limiting the generality of the duties under subsection (1), every employer shall
(a) ensure that the necessary systems of work, tools, equipment, machines, devices and materials are maintained in good condition and are of minimum risk to health and safety when used as directed by the supplier or in accordance with the directions supplied by the supplier;
(a.1) ensure that the place of employment is inspected at least once a month to identify any risks to the health and safety of its employees;
(b) acquaint an employee with any hazard in connection with the use, handling, storage, disposal and transport of any tool, equipment, machine, device or biological, chemical or physical agent;
(c) provide the information that is necessary to ensure an employee’s health and safety;
(c.1) provide the instruction that is necessary to ensure an employee’s health and safety;
(c.2) provide the training that is necessary to ensure an employee’s health and safety;
(c.3) ensure that work at the place of employment is competently supervised and that supervisors have sufficient knowledge of all of the following with respect to matters that are within the scope of the supervisor’s duties:
(i) this Act and any regulations under this Act that apply to the place of employment;
(ii) any safety policy for the place of employment;
(iii) any health and safety program for the place of employment;
(iv) any health and safety procedures with respect to hazards in connection with the use, handling, storage, disposal and transport of any tool, equipment, machine, device or biological, chemical or physical agent by employees who work under the supervisor’s supervision and direction;
(v) any protective equipment required to ensure the health and safety of the employees who work under the supervisor’s supervision and direction; and
(vi) any other matters that are necessary to ensure the health and safety of the employees who work under the supervisor’s supervision and direction;
(c.4) ensure that work at the place of employment is sufficiently supervised;
(d) provide and maintain in good condition such protective equipment as is required by regulation and ensure that such equipment is used by an employee in the course of work;
(e) co-operate with a committee, where such a committee has been established, a health and safety representative, where such a representative has been elected or designated, and with any person responsible for the enforcement of this Act and the regulations.
(3) An employer shall develop a program for the inspection referred to in paragraph (2)(a.1) with the joint health and safety committee, if any, or the health and safety representative, if any, and shall share the results of each inspection with the committee or the health and safety representative.
[S.N.B. 2001, c. 35, s. 3; 2007, c. 12, s. 2; 2013, c. 15, s. 4; 2019, c. 38, s. 4; 2022, c. 32, s. 5]
Section 12 Duties of employee
12. Every employee shall
(a) comply with this Act, the regulations and any order made in accordance with this Act or the regulations;
(b) conduct themselves to ensure their own health and safety and that of other persons at, in or near the employee’s place of employment;
(c) report to the employer or supervisor the existence of any hazard of which the employee is aware;
(d) wear or use such protective equipment as is required by regulation;
(e) consult and co-operate with the committee where one has been established or with the health and safety representative where one has been elected or designated; and
(f) co-operate with any person responsible for the enforcement of this Act and the regulations.
[S.N.B. 2001, c. 35, s. 6; 2007, c. 12, s. 3; 2019, c. 38, s. 7; 2022, c. 32, s. 7]