Mine Safety Amid New Pot Policies
Cannabis will be legal for Canadians to consume recreationally on October 17, 2018. Most of the news and media coverage has dealt with the sale, distribution and rules of consumption of cannabis, yet there has been minimal mention of the obvious risks to safety. While the safety hazards cannabis presents on our roads and at our workplaces is not new, the size of this risk will only grow with legalization.
This is a concern for the mining industry in Canada. Mining is one of Canada’s most hazardous industries. Its complex operations—which often occur in remote locations—make incidents costly and challenging to address. This is why risk avoidance is so vital to the safety and productivity of mining operations. Beyond the moral and financial responsibilities of avoiding known risks, we should consider the following requirements of the Criminal Code and the Occupational Health & Safety Act (Ontario) (see at bottom).
What can we do to prepare for the growing risk cannabis is to the safety of our employees and operations?
Cannabis is not alcohol
First, we need to realize that cannabis is not alcohol. Cannabis will be legal just as alcohol is now and we know that the risks each presents should be avoided. Beyond those similarities, they present very different risks to safety.
Most of us are familiar with alcohol. Someone consumes alcohol and becomes impaired. This effect is acute intoxication. The individual stops drinking and, given some time, becomes sober. This is not the case with cannabis. Users of cannabis become impaired due to acute intoxication as well but that is not all. Cannabis has lingering effects that persist up to and beyond 24 hours. This lingering effect is according to research and publications by Health Canada, the World Health Organization, physician and academic authorities.
The responsible use of each drug looks very different. Understanding that they are different along with properly managing the different risks is key to keeping safety risks low.
Removing the growing risk of cannabis in the workplace is not easy and should not be done in isolation. It should integrate into your overall safety program. Dealing with the specific risk that cannabis poses is an ideal opportunity to revisit your path to safety. Here are some steps to assist you.
Define your why:
- Organizationally, why are you interested in safety?
- What draws you to this objective on a personal level, what fits with your brand and your organizational culture?
- What language can you use to reinforce your values, your company values and the very identity your organization has earned; to turn your safety objective into a sincere desire, an extension of your very identity?
Define your organizational interests, identify your stakeholders and avoid any unnecessary polarizing positions:
- We want everyone to get home safe; we make decisions on this basis. Will this choice move us toward or away from a higher likelihood of achieving a safer workplace?
- We want our people not only to feel safe but to be safe. Compliance measures are necessary.
- We want to remove risk and keep our people. We encourage self-disclosure and accommodation, we have zero tolerance for looking the other way.
- We respect all people we interact with, regard them with dignity, respect and uphold the utmost confidentiality, without fail and without exception.
- We have a bias towards safety especially when there is uncertainty, missing or inconclusive information.
Clarify critical scripts, what fit for duty truly means:
- What we do on our own time matters to the time we are responsible for the person next to us.
- Just because something is lawful, does not make it a safe and acceptable practice for our workplace.
- Safety is not on the table to be compromised; cannabis, at this time, is not compatible with our work—no matter what the reason for use happens to be.
- Your silence is deadly. Talk to us about any and all workplace hazards, including those that might make yourself or others unfit for duty.
- We care deeply about fitness for duty because we care deeply about your safety.
Execute a balanced fit for duty standard:
- Identify and document any current and/or history of unfit workplace behaviors/concerns.
- Identify the level of danger and complexity of your workplace and activities.
- Implement a policy that aims to manage risk of “unfit” workers while balancing other interests.
- Train your supervisors/managers on how to identify the signs and symptoms of an unfit worker.
- Communicate your program, expectations and educational content to staff and obtain signoff of the program.
- Execute the program consistently using defensible best practices and a reputable supplier.
Reinforce and evolve the fit for duty standard—commit to better, always getting safer:
- Review violations of the program to identify opportunities to better avoid in the future.
- Review disciplinary action taken to confirm the policy was adhered to in all aspects and accommodation was performed on a case by case basis.
- Review any changes in the legal landscape that may conflict with or enhance the current program and adjust accordingly in both policy and training.
- Survey (formally and informally) staff on their perspectives; is this just another policy or is it more than that, and does it have purpose, passion, and pride to it?
Safety specifics to cannabis
Considering cannabis specifically, there are some critical positions that need to be understood and agreed upon. They should include:
- Legalization of cannabis is happening. It’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure it doesn’t amount to a workplace tragedy.
- Cannabis is not alcohol, legal accessibility to use cannabis recreationally does not give someone the right to consume it in such a way that puts the safety of others at risk while at work. At this time, we conclude any cannabis consumption and our safety sensitive work are incompatible, and this applies to the use of cannabis both on and off the job.
- Encourage self-disclosure of addiction and be fully prepared to work with individuals with the utmost confidentiality, respect and dignity. Do this without compromise to the mutual requirement to preserve a safe workplace.
Once these steps are taken and critical positions are understood, action can be taken to travel a path to safety that takes into account the growing risk of cannabis. These actions can include:
- Organizational agreement that a fit for duty program is reasonable and necessary.
- Policy draft, internal review, final legal review (requires expertise in this space), sign-off.
- Training: executive, managers/supervisors and frontline staff.
- Communication, frequent re-enforcement of program goals, individual obligations and necessary actions.
- Secure a suitable supplier for policy, training, testing and accommodation/return to duty support.
We understand the complexity that employers face when dealing with fitness for duty. This article aims to overcome this by providing the directions from the “bright spots,” programs that work, and scripts the critical moves and where the destination lies. It is up to you to find the feeling, shrink the change, and develop your people—to motivate change (Heath, 2010).
Remember that action happens before motivation; that the feedback loop is action rewarded by motivation to take the next action. This means taking an action before you feel motivated to do it is the way to safety. When you do, you are rewarded with the motivation to take the next step. The most important step is not the first, it is the next step, always taking the next step.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2018 issue of Canadian Mining Magazine and has been updated with current information since its original print. The full issue can be accessed here for free: http://canadianminingmagazine.com/past-issues/.
About this Author
Dan Demers is the Senior Manager of Strategic Business Development at CannAmm Occupational Testing Services. His commitment to lifelong learning is rooted in science and supplemented through executive education. His dedication to his community and the pursuit of a safer workplace is demonstrated by serving on the board of directors for the Substance Abuse Program Administrators Association (SAPAA) as Treasurer and on the board of his local community Food Bank.
The Criminal Code (Canada)
217.1 Every one who undertakes, or has the authority, to direct how another person does work or performs a task is under a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to that person, or any other person, arising from that work or task. (Government of Canada 2017)
The Occupational Health & Safety Act (Ontario) Mines and Mining Plants Regulation
5. (1) No person under the influence of, or carrying, intoxicating liquor, shall enter or knowingly be permitted to enter a mine or mining plant. R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 854, s. 15 (1).
(2) Subject to subsection (3), no person under the influence of, or carrying, a drug or narcotic substance shall enter or knowingly be permitted to enter a mine or mining plant. R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 854, s. 15 (2).
(3) A person required to use a prescription drug and able to perform his or her work may enter a mine or mining plant upon establishing medical proof thereof. R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 854, s. 15 (3).