The legalization of recreational marijuana raises challenging questions for workplaces and workers. Many are concerned that a rise in cannabis use will increase the danger of impairment in the construction industry and beyond.
Will the new law threaten site safety? Various factors can diminish coordination and decision-making at work: lack of sleep, strained domestic issues, work stress, substance use, just to name a few. And most workplaces already have rules regarding fitness for duty. So why should we be concerned about cannabis?
We should be concerned, because we have a responsibility, along with management partners, to improve safety on the site. We need to take an active hand in ensuring our safety, and not leave it up to government or the employer to take care of us.
So how do unionized workers keep the workplace safe now that marijuana is legal?
Exercise your responsibilities. When on site we don’t tolerate alcohol, horseplay, or improper personal protective equipment (PPE). We confront coworkers whose health and safety practices and attitudes are dangerous and unprofessional. We entrust crew safety to team members who are fit. We don’t turn a blind eye to health and safety infractions. We know internal responsibility. We protect our crew, our family, and the livelihood of all who work for our company. We help those who need it; we don’t hide them.
Exercise your rights. Become knowledgeable about fitness for duty programs and policies. Participate in site health and safety initiatives. Use your employee family assistance program (EFAP) and other resources for help.
Acknowledge the tension between privacy and safety. While some see random drug-testing as a critical aspect of workplace safety policies, others insist that such tests violate workers’ rights to privacy. In Saskatchewan, random testing by employers is prohibited for almost all workplaces. Nevertheless, around Canada several important legal cases addressing this issue are still in progress, including the dispute between Suncor and Unifor in Alberta and between the Toronto Transit Commission and the Amalgamated Transit Union. In addition, an emerging line of thinking (such as in Stewart v. Elk Valley Coal, an Alberta case) argues that workers with dependency issues must seek help sooner. We cannot expect to use substances until caught, and then claim disability that requires accommodation after the fact.
Employers, workers, and unions need to be proactive. We recognize the need for both risk protection and privacy protection. Together, we can find ways to keep our sites safe in the era of legalized marijuana and share in economic gains that come from being part of an attentive, responsible, and safe workforce.