The Vancouver Regional Construction Association hosted a panel titled "Weed at Work" at its Construction Leadership Forum on May 5 in Whistler, B.C.
The panel consisted of Ken Boucher of Ledcor Construction Limited, Dave Earle from the Construction Leadership Relations Association of B.C., and Graham Trafford of Mott Electric GP, and was moderated by Michael Watt.
Marijuana has been associated with poor reaction time, judgement, fatigue and a variety of other conditions that are not compatible with a construction workplace. However since 2001, medical marijuana use has been legal, and the law regulating dispensaries changed in 2004 and was immediately challenged since initially these dispensaries could only dispense marijuana in dry form.
The Cannabis Act was recently introduced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and makes possession legal, as well as small scale growing of marijuana in the home.
The expectation, Watt said, given the lack of an election in the near future is that marijuana will be legal by next year.
Recreational pot use is not protected; if someone brings pot onto the work site they must have a medical document justifying its use. The law does not negate any of the safety obligations on a worksite either, Watt added.
In terms of impairment, Earle said, a worker has a duty to declare impairment, and an employer has a duty to make sure impairment is not present in the workplace. The three "red flags" are alcohol, marijuana (and other substances), and other causes, which could be anything from fatigue to sickness to depression.
Earle said to detect impairment, "you're going to know something isn't right with an individual. But you have to, in the moment, identify what isn't right. "
More to the point, Earle said, "you have to have that first conversation." Having that conversation is legitimate, but the way you approach the conversation matters. You can't lay into people, he said, and added you actually won't find substance abuse most of the time. There are a multitude of reasons for distraction, and while substance abuse is one of those reasons, it isn't the only one.
Boucher said marijuana is "the interesting one," but the bigger question is how to put a plan together that encompasses all substance abuse and safety issues.
"If you're going to get into trouble with a tribunal because you shot from the hip and let someone go, without a defined program for workers, then you're at risk," he said.
Most companies have rules for use of electronic devices and resources at work, Boucher said, and a drug and alcohol program can be modeled on much the same lines.
Having a structure in place with a written evaluation process and two people evaluating to eliminate bias are all components of a drug and alcohol program, "and all of these will be necessary as we walk through the minefield the federal government is putting us on," Boucher said.
Earle made the point that people drink alcohol at receptions and other work events; "how close are we to an edibles table?" he said.
Trafford said "you have a program for a reason, so everyone knows what the rules are," and added as an employer, you have to cover for all your risks.
Watt said the law has focused on driving, and "I don't think the federal government will touch provincial workplace safety."
When you find an employee in a post-testing positive incident, many factors come into play, Boucher said. If they have a previous history, or more than one previous strike, or declared dependencies, you have to work with management and possibly union representatives to work towards rehabilitation.
If the employee needs to be terminated, and there is a policy and plan in place, "you're on pretty solid ground," Boucher said.
Boucher said drug and alcohol policies only apply to Ledcor employees, and anyone they subcontract should follow their rules, but "if there's a problem, it's your problem," he said. There's an administrative burden for small employers, and the "solutions are yet to come" to alleviate that.