Opinion editorial by the CNSC’s President about drug and alcohol testing in the nuclear industry
Canada has an enviable nuclear safety record. This fall, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) will be requiring the licensees of high security sites to implement an additional layer of vigilance to ensure even better protection for Canadians.
As part of a broad review of workplace roles and responsibilities, we will be mandating drug and alcohol testing for workers who occupy critical positions at high-security nuclear facilities, such as power plants. These positions will include certified control-room workers and those authorized to carry firearms in and around nuclear facilities.
This new measure reflects our commitment to a proactive approach to protecting the safety of Canadians. Those entrusted with roles in safety-critical areas must be held to the highest standards of fitness for duty.
Why are we moving forward now with drug and alcohol testing? There are two main reasons.
First, the recent legalization of cannabis in Canada has changed how the drug is purchased and consumed. But this does not alter the need for nuclear workers to be free at all times from the influence of both illicit and legal substances in the workplace. In this new environment, we must be even more watchful on behalf of Canadians.
Second, we strongly believe in being proactive: It is better to establish appropriate measures to ensure the fitness of safety-critical workers, rather than waiting for an event to respond to. Simply put, we cannot afford to be complacent. Instead, we must continue to take action to set the highest standard of safety in the facilities we regulate. Drug and alcohol testing, including random testing – already the norm in the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries – will provide an additional layer of assurance.
Historically, much of our work has focused on mandating world-class safety processes and requiring the highest standards of reliability from equipment. The human aspect of risk has always been considered – but it is now time to ensure that workers are held to these same high requirements. The performance of workers is a key contributor to both the safety and security of nuclear facilities.
The CNSC’s drug and alcohol testing measures are the result of extensive consultations with scientists and other experts, nuclear power plant operators and workers, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and the general public. Our model is based on scientific research and guided by the imperative to protect Canadians from risk.
Once the Commission formally publishes its new requirements, each of Canada’s high-security nuclear licensees will need to come up with – and put in place within 12 months – a plan for drug and alcohol testing, including random testing, in its facilities. Any employee who fails a test will be taken off duty immediately. An assessment, along with counselling if necessary, will be provided. Medical clearance will be required before the worker is allowed to return to a safety-critical position.
As we move forward in better protecting Canadians, we are also responding to legitimate concerns about privacy rights by ensuring that only workers in safety-critical roles will be obliged to undergo this newly required testing.
I have worked in Canada’s nuclear sector for more than three decades. I know that its workers are highly qualified, dedicated and extremely safety conscious. I have also witnessed how Canada benefits from a nuclear industry that is closely scrutinized and rigorously regulated. Effective oversight reduces risk and helps keep Canadians safe.
By introducing drug and alcohol testing, including random testing, we will build on the industry’s exemplary safety record – and better protect nuclear workers and all Canadians into the future.
Rumina Velshi is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.
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