HR & OHS can better manage cannabis in the workplace by working together
July 19, 2019
Focus Area—Human Resources
This Op-Ed was originally published by The Globe and Mail on July 17, 2019 and is written by Bill Howatt and Charles Boyer of the Conference Board of Canada.
The Conference Board of Canada and The Globe and Mail are partnering to explore the relationship between careers and cannabis use. Employers and employees (both recreational and medical cannabis users, as well as non-cannabis users) are invited to participate in a study. (Employees interested in taking the survey can click on this link. Employers interested in taking the survey can click on this link.) The data from these surveys will be aggregated and used to conduct analysis and create a report that will be presented Oct. 15 at a conference at The Globe and Mail Centre in Toronto.
Occupational health and safety (OHS) and human resource (HR) professionals have a unique opportunity to join forces to build stronger, safer workplaces.
A recent pulse survey by The Conference Board of Canada found that a good working relationship between OHS and HR was an important factor in predicting the psychological health and safety of a workplace. Both groups have the same goal and are invested in creating a safe work environment. With recreational cannabis now legal in Canada, harnessing the collective expertise of these critical functions is as important as ever.
OHS professionals’ main focus is on safety, and they have experience in relevant areas including safety management systems, risk/hazard assessments, preventive and corrective action, joint occupational health and safety committees, and reporting and investigating. These are essential now that recreational cannabis is legal, employers are implementing new policies to increase safety, and employees are developing their knowledge of the impact cannabis can have on their work.
HR professionals are skilled in navigating the individual challenges employees face when it comes to health and wellness concerns and are well-suited for managing employees’ accommodation requests. In particular, when it comes to the impact of cannabis on the health and safety of workers, HR experts understand the policies and can offer best practices in accommodation and managing potential problematic use.
Together, these functions can support initiatives that could mitigate risk while promoting employee health, engagement and productivity.
Creating a culture of safety takes more than just hiring safety professionals. A strong safety culture is owned by everyone in the organization. OHS professionals often have more direct training and experience in managing risk and auditing for risk factors, such as impairment from recreational cannabis use. HR professionals are more likely to understand the resources and employee assistance programs (EAPs) available to those who need support.
Research from the Conference Board found that organizations offer a wide variety of programming to help employees. The most common supports and programs available to employees include EAPs, return-to-work, long-term treatment, recovery management and relapse prevention. While this is commendable, organizations can go further by aligning OHS and HR to reduce the risk of impairment from cannabis use in the workplace, as well as provide proactive solutions for prevention, early detection and intervention.
Every organization has a responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace, which depends on all employees being fit for duty (which means not impaired). For employers, it’s worth the effort to create processes and procedures that encourage employees to be fit for duty – especially for safety-sensitive positions. Both OHS and HR professionals are responsible for managing impairment in the workplace.
Employers need to accommodate employees, up to what’s known as “undue hardship,” who require medical cannabis or who are dependent on cannabis. HR professionals are typically accountable for decisions around undue hardship. They have experience helping people through the human-rights accommodation process, as well as with disability management and supporting employees returning to work from personal issues, such as addictive disorders.
When OHS and HR work together, strategies to deal with risks to employees’ health and safety are likely to be more effective. Policies will benefit from diverse perspectives. The impact of substance-use policies can be more thoroughly audited with OHS’s experience with risk/hazard assessment and HR’s knowledge of external policies. Organizations can also better understand the impact of workplace accommodations thanks to OHS’s focus on safety and HR’s experience with the accommodation process.
Research from the Conference Board has found five top concerns organizations face around the legalization of cannabis.
- Workplace safety;
- Impairment or intoxication at work;
- Employee mental health;
- Increase in workplace accidents or injuries;
- Increased use of cannabis.
Many of these factors involve different parts of an organization when it comes to ensuring employees are aware of risks and are behaving safely. A good start could be encouraging OHS and HR professionals to collaborate on the organization’s substance-use policies, training on workplace-impairment for managers and employees, drug testing and auditing the risk of impairment in the workplace (for example, recreational cannabis use before or during work).
OHS and HR professionals are passionate about creating healthy and productive work forces. When they work well together, they can help an organization create an environment where that is possible.
Dr. Bill Howatt
Chief of Research, Workforce Productivity
Senior Network Manager, Workplace Health