Substance use in the work place, Canada Labour Code, Part II, IPG-080

Revised December 2012

1. Issue

To provide guidance to Health and Safety Officer (HSO) facing situations involving substance use in the work place.

In this document, "substance use" refers to:

  • any use of alcohol or illicit drugs;
  • the misuse of prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) drugs or;
  • any accepted use of prescription or OTC drugs which results in adverse side-effects or reactions.

2. Background

HSOs are being required to intervene more frequently in situations that may involve substance use.

HSOs may become involved in such situations through investigations into hazardous occurrences, health and safety complaints and refusals to work.

It is therefore necessary to clarify the appropriate actions for HSOs to take when dealing with these situations.

3. Questions

3.1 What are the appropriate actions to take when there is suspicion of substance use during Hazardous Occurrence Investigations?

  1. If substance use is suspected, HSOs shall investigate this possibility and attempt to obtain corroborating information from reliable sources, such as the police or coroner's office. Employee statements and items from the accident scene may also provide evidence of substance use.
  2. If the HSO can substantiate that substance use has occurred, the HSO shall not speculate on the level of employee impairment or the degree to which substance use may have contributed to the hazardous occurrence. The HSO must include this information on his report but limit the amount of detail. The question the HSO needs to ask is whether the information is pertinent and essential to the investigation. If yes, such information should be included but limited as follows:

    Reports should include:

    • information regarding substance use or the presence of alcohol or illicit drugs in the workplace;
    • side effects or adverse reactions of the prescription or OTC drug (i.e. may cause drowsiness);
    • limitations on use of the prescription or OTC drug (i.e. do not operate heavy equipment);
    • the blood alcohol content, if available;
    • corrective action taken by the Employer, or required by the HSO to address this finding.

    Reports should not include:

    • the name of the prescription or OTC drug, or the condition it is normally used for. Reports should only refer to "prescription or OTC drug";
    • the employee's medical condition;
    • the name of the illicit drug (should only be referred to as "illicit drugs");
    • the name or type of alcohol, (i.e. beer, wine, liquor, etc.);
    • speculation of the degree to which the use of prescription or OTC drug, illicit drug or alcohol may have contributed to the hazardous occurrence.

    N.B. If it is necessary to disclose the employee's medical information, the HSO must seek the employee's consent (or next-of-kin if employee is deceased) to the release of information.

3.2 What are the appropriate actions to take when there is suspicion of substance use during Complaint Investigations?

  1. These investigations must follow all existing requirements described in the Canada Labour Code, Part II and Interpretations, Policies and Guidelines (IPG) related to the Internal Complaint Resolution Process (ICRP).
  2. HSOs shall refrain from speculating on the degree of impairment or the severity of the potential hazard created by alleged substance use. It is enough for the HSO to establish that substance use has occurred in order to require corrective action from the Employer. The HSO is restricted to the facts of the complaint and renders a decision based only on those facts and observations personally noted by him.
  3. If technical information regarding adverse side effects or reactions created by the substance use is necessary to the conclusion of the investigation, the HSO shall contact the Technical Advisors for assistance.

3.3 What are the appropriate actions to take when there is suspicion of substance use during Refusal to Work Investigations?

  1. HSOs shall refrain from speculating on the degree of impairment or the severity of the potential hazard created by an alleged substance use. It is enough for the HSO to establish that substance use has occurred at the time of the refusal to work in order to require corrective action.
  2. Pursuant to ss.129(4), on completion of the investigation the HSO decides whether or not danger exists as defined in s. 122(1) of the Code. IPG-062 Definition of Danger provides guidance on this subject.
  3. If the HSO can substantiate that substance use has occurred, the HSO could rule "danger" on the basis that the employee had an unknown level of impairment, which resulted in a danger. This approach avoids the HSO from having to establish the actual level of employee impairment, (which HSOs are not trained to do) and requires that immediate action be taken to address the situation.
  4. If technical information regarding adverse side effects or reactions created by the substance use is necessary to the conclusion of the investigation, the HSO shall contact the Technical Advisors for assistance.

4. Conclusion

  1. The purpose of Part II of the Code is, as stated in section 122.1, "to prevent accidents and injury to health arising out of, linked with or occurring in the course of employment to which this Part applies". The employer has a duty to ensure that the health and safety at work of every employee is protected. The employee also has duties with regard to health and safety as contemplated by subsection 126.(1) of the Code.
  2. Whether or not the ICRP, Refusal to Work, or Hazardous Occurrence investigations confirm substance use in the workplace, the HSO may find it appropriate to counsel the employer and the workplace H&S committee / representative on preventative measures to take if such issue ever had to be addressed.
  3. Preventive measures recommended to the employer could include:
    1. applying the Hazard Prevention Program Regulations to identify and assess the risk of use;
    2. if substance use is identified as a risk, establishment of a clear policy on substance use, describing what it is, what is not acceptable, and the consequences of violating the policy;
    3. if a policy on substance use is in place, communication, and consistent enforcement of the said policy and provision to managers and employees of training on its application;
    4. if needed, provision of some form of employee assistance program , counselling and education;
  4. For those situations of danger where substance use is suspected, the HSO ensures that corrective action has already been taken and if not, a direction may be required.

Brenda Baxter
Director General
Workplace Directorate
Employment and Social Development Canada – Labour Program

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