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HEALTH & SAFETY: Uncertainty is biggest obstacle for employers as Oct 17 legalization looms
July 31st, 2018 10:47 am     A+ | a-

Andrew Pariser and Amina Dibe / RESCON

Among health and safety professionals, impairment always has been the top concern for construction sites across Canada, and that has come into sharp focus in the lead-up to the legalization of recreational cannabis.

That’s why we have held two Cannabis in Construction symposiums with strong attendance each time as the construction industry tries to prepare for life after Oct. 17 when recreational cannabis becomes legal.

IMPACTS ON CONSTRUCTION

In construction, safety is everyone’s No. 1 concern. Safe workers are happier, healthier, more productive and provide a higher quality of work. Impaired workers, regardless of the cause, are a hazard to themselves, other workers and the public. Not surprisingly, they are also more likely to be involved in an accident.

After Oct. 17, the obligations placed on employers seem endless. A survey by the Human Resource Professionals Association found that 71 per cent of employers are not prepared for the legalization of cannabis. A difficult balance must be struck between respecting an individual’s human rights and enforcing onsite mechanisms to ensure workers go home safely every night.


David Frame of the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA) takes the mic. OGCA co-hosted the event with RESCON.


A major theme that emerged is uncertainty. Uncertainty from the public as to what the rules and regulations will be, uncertainty for safety professionals as we continue to wait for legislative and regulatory details after Premier Ford’s announcement that he intends to privatize sales, and uncertainty on how it could impair workers. Specifically, impairment is impacted by an almost endless list of factors including potency – amount of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) – quantity, and method of consumption (inhalation vs. edibles).

So, how did we get to this point?

HOW IT BECAME LAW

The real turning point was the election of the federal Liberal government in 2015, which ran on a platform that included the legalization of recreational cannabis. Fast-forward to June 2018, and the Senate passed Bill C-45, making Canada the first G7 country to legalize cannabis.

While the federal government will oversee production, quality assurance and some enforcement issues through the RCMP, the provinces and territories are focused on retail sales, most aspects of taxation and enforcement of the regulatory scheme by provincial and municipal police.

Cannabis will fit in as one of the legal vices with alcohol, tobacco, junk food and gambling for controlled consumption with the key words being “permit but discourage,” says symposium speaker Bill Bogart, a law professor with the University of Windsor.


Prof. Bill Bogart of the University of Windsor speaks at the symposium.


EMPLOYER POLICY

All employers in construction should have policies to guide and inform employees on what is and isn’t acceptable. By Oct. 17 (or preferably even sooner), employers need to update their drug or impairment policy. The goal of all employers is to ensure workers are free from impairment.

One way to ensure a drug policy reflects this is by focusing on impairment and not specific causes. A broad policy which encompasses employer-specific factors is a prudent step forward. Industry or sector-wide policies should be avoided as health and safety obligations are unique for every construction site.

THE FUTURE

Despite cannabis’s historic presence in Canada, widely accepted academic studies and scientific information are lacking because cannabis has been an illicit substance. This means a flood of information will come after legalization. Employers and employer associations must stay vigilant and ensure leading studies on impairment, measurements and impacts are quickly put into practice.

Meanwhile, the future distribution in Ontario changed recently when Premier Doug Ford’s government announced that the province will license private businesses to sell it in shops, switching from the Wynne government’s plan to sell it at government-run stores. The Globe and Mail praised his decision; we’ll reserve judgment.

RESCON vice-president Andrew Pariser makes a point as symposium speaker Sundeep Sokhale looks on.

While there are concerns and there inevitably will be bumps along the way, Bogart expects the post-legalization era will be similar for cannabis as it was for gambling in the 1960s. “The path was not easy or straightforward but it was eventually cleared. With patience and lots of debate and discussion, much the same description will come to be applied to the legalization and regulation of cannabis.”

Work safe!

 

Andrew Pariser is the vice-president of RESCON and chair of the RESCON health and safety committee. Email him at pariser@rescon.com

Amina Dibe is a policy and programs analyst for RESCON with a focus on training and apprenticeship, health and safety, and government relations. Email her at dibe@rescon.com.

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