Ignoring the impact of upcoming cannabis legalization could be costly for Canadian companies and organizations as they scramble to put together workplace safety policies and procedures to deal with the new reality that comes into play in October.

Kym Fawcett, Senior HSE (Health and Safety Executive) Advisor with the Cannabis Learning Series, said federal and provincial occupational health and safety legislation and laws require employers to take all reasonable precautions to provide a safe work environment and to protect the health and safety of their employees.

“This includes identifying potential workplace hazards, including the potential impairment hazards, and developing mitigation or corrective actions to prevent such incidents from happening – called due diligence,” she said.

“To establish due diligence and reduce corporate business risk, employers need to have appropriate alcohol and drug policy and procedures in place. In addition, they need to educate and train their employees on these organizational requirements and processes.”

Fawcett said potential costs to an employer can be both direct and indirect. They include: increased safety incidents such as fatalities and accidents; absenteeism/sick leave/turnover; loss of production/productivity; legal costs arising from either safety incidents or from not accommodating an employee’s authorization of medical cannabis; increased costs related to insurance, workers compensation, temporary or replacement workers; damage to equipment or the workplace; disciplinary procedures; medical/rehabilitation programs; poor decision-making; and tardiness/sleeping on the job.

How costly could it get for employers?

“One incident could cost a company a lot of money starting from the incident in itself and the hardship to the employee to the investigation,” explained Fawcett. “When an incident happens, a number of people in an organization from health and safety, HR, legal, finance might get involved. Just the time.

“And then if there’s a lawsuit which often there is . . . if an employee is hurt and sues the company that’s where the costs can really get astronomical with both the lawsuit the legal costs or whatever the settlement is. Often those can go on for years.”

And at a cost of thousands and thousands of dollars.

Also, Fawcett said employers have to consider that human rights laws across Canada require them to accommodate their employees’ disabilities and also prohibit discrimination of employee disabilities. This includes the use of cannabis authorized from a medical practitioner.

Employees that are in safety-sensitive positions have a duty to perform their job safetl. So they have an obligation to inform their employer if they have a disability that requires the medical use of cannabis.

Through her past corporate experience, Fawcett has developed the corporate policies, procedures and processes required by the legalization of recreational cannabis in several U.S. states.

She said cannabis legislation can be a potential risk for employers, especially for safety-sensitive positions. And that includes a huge list of employees from people driving on behalf of the company to operating heavy machinery to electrical workers.

“Any type of position that if they don’t do it correctly they could pose a risk to others in the workplace, the environment,” said Fawcett. “So that covers a lot of people.

“Not only do employers have to identify potential risks and put in plans to mitigate . . . they also have a duty to ensure that their employees are educated and they understand it . . . And they need to especially train their leaders to be able to talk to their employees and to be able to identify potential cases of impairment whether that’s cannabis or other drugs.”

Fawcett said that research in U.S. states that have legalized recreational cannabis found increasing use among people.

“Even in Canada the increase in medical authorization has gone up astronomically in the last three years . . . The data is showing in places like Colorado where they legalized recreational marijuana the increases in daily uses is fascinating to see because they break the categories of adults into two age groups – those over 26 and those 18 to 25.

“What the trends show is that when they first legalize there’s a definite increase. Now over time the users that are over 26 that actually comes back down . . . What’s concerning is those younger adults. These are people that are coming into the workforce and will be taking over in the workforce. Those users that are 18 to 25, not only does the trend go up, it doesn’t come back down. They have seen an almost 50 per cent increase in daily use of recreational marijuana from users 18 to 25 and then another 13 per cent increase for what they define as near-daily. So as an employer, I would be very, very concerned about that.”

As executives contemplate the new workplace environment that will be thrust upon them in October, it’s imperative they invest now in having the proper policies, procedures, training initiatives and prevention/awareness campaigns in place. It’s truly an investment that can provide a significant return.

Unfortunately, what too many companies are choosing to do is simply ignore the need to address the cannabis legislation changes or they think they’re covered by updating their drug and alcohol policies and sending a memo to employees.

In either case, doing too little can end up being pretty costly in the end.

(Written by Mario Toneguzzi – Journalist/ Storyteller/ Corporate Journalist/ Communications/Media Training at Mario Toneguzzi Communications)