Impairment comes in many forms

PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. – Impairment can be caused by several different factors when driving truck, and they are not always easy to ascertain.

As a pair of presenters outlined during the Interior Safety Conference today in Prince George, B.C., companies need to look at their own policies and procedures when dealing with impairment in the workplace.

Logan Stormont, drug and alcohol supervisor training specialist for CannAmm, said a lot has changed since the legalization of cannabis in Canada, and the substance should not be lumped into the same category as alcohol, which many people do.

“We’ve all treated cannabis like alcohol, but that’s like comparing an apple to a hubcap…you just can’t make that comparison,” said Stormont. “We fail to recognize the hangover effect…they just don’t work the same way with the lingering effects.”

Many health agencies, including the World Health Organization, warn that cannabis can continue having an effect on users for 24 hours. Stormont went even further, saying lingering effects of cannabis can last for up to three days.

“Would you want somebody operating a forklift under the influence of cannabis?” Stormont asked conference attendees. “Probably not.”

Since legalization, there has been an uptick in the usage of marijuana, with 18% of adults now using the drug compared to 14% pre-legalization.

One of the more troubling statistics reveals that drivers admitting to operating a vehicle within two hours of using cannabis has gone from 4% to 15% post-legalization.

Employers, however, need to tread carefully when it comes to policies and procedures for managing cannabis in the workplace as not to infringe on human rights.

Medical marijuana, which has been available for some time, is used by many Canadians to treat such ailments as chronic neuropathic pain and multiple sclerosis.

“It is a medical authorization in certain situations and we need to respect that,” said Stormont.

But as Stormont explains, there is no difference between medical and recreations marijuana.

If an employee is authorized by a medical professional to use medical marijuana, employers must first verify that authorization. Anyone using cannabis should be removed from safety sensitive work duties and be placed in an alternative position or given medical leave. Termination is not an option in such a circumstance, said Stormont.

To properly manage cannabis in the workplace, Stormont said companies must develop fit-for-duty programs consisting of a clear policy, training, and testing for the substance.

“This is a risk mitigation tool like any other safety tool in your workplace,” he said, adding that every employee must be responsible for being fit to perform the job expected of them in a safe and responsible manner.

CannAmm stats show cannabis is in the workplace at a national average of 62.5% of businesses with an employee using the substance. Those numbers are similar in Western Canada, with B.C. at 62.8%, Alberta 59%, and Saskatchewan at 71.7%.

Logan Stormont.

Another less obvious form of impairment comes from fatigue.

As Mike Harnett, president of Solaris Fatigue Management, explained, there are two type of fatigue: task related and sleep related.

Harnett said 97% of people need between seven and nine hours of sleep every day to function normally, with only 26% meeting that minimum.

“The thing about fatigue is that it sits in your body and it builds and builds,” said Harnett. “The only thing that gets rid of fatigue is sleep…you cannot Tim Hortons or Red Bull it away.”

As human beings are a day-oriented species, Harnett said there is no such thing as getting used to overnight shift work.

“You’ve adapted to being in a state of impairment,” said Harnett.

In a nutshell, light hitting the eyes wakes us up and creates rhythms in our brain’s master clock that connects to other peripheral clocks in the body. The absence of light reduces the melatonin in our body, which helps us sleep. We need serotonin to produce melatonin, which we get from sunlight. Those who do shift work have lower levels of serotonin and subsequently lower melatonin, negatively impacting sleep.

Incidents in the workplace increase when employees are fatigued.

Compared to morning shifts, accidents go up 30% during night shifts and 18% in the afternoon. Risk levels also increase during nights with every shift an employee works.

“If you work longer and harder through the night, you’re going to be more at risk,” said Harnett.

Employees who work more than 60 hours a week are nearly twice as likely to be injured on the job. And as Harnett explained, employee output falls sharply at 50 hours a week, and those who put in 70 hours produce no more than those working 55 hours a week.

Harnett said hours-of-service laws for commercial drivers are being evaluated with the increased risk of injury in mind.
As driving can be a cognitively unengaging task with deterioration occurring after 20-30 minutes, Harnett said many drivers can go into auto pilot and even micro-sleep while traveling down the highway.

“You’re behind the wheel of that vehicle with your eyes wide open and your brain is asleep,” said Harnett.

Having a fatigue management policy is important for companies, much like it is to have a drug and alcohol policy.

To help manage fatigue in the workplace, companies should look at providing adequate sleep opportunities to employees, ensure sleep is obtained during those hours, look at fatigue related behaviors, fatigue related errors, and finally have a procedure in place for incident investigations.

“There’s a big difference between someone who is sitting in an office thinking they can work 16 hours and someone operating equipment,” said Harnett.

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A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media and trucking industries as a writer, editor, and now as western bureau chief of Today's Trucking and I have several years of management experience in journalism, as well as hospitality, but am first and foremost a writer, both professionally and in my personal life, having completed two fiction novels.

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  • I still firmly believe especially in the transpotation industry and particularly pertaining to the operation of any motorized vehicle there should be random as well as pre employment drug screening (constitutional issue or not), in order to be on par with U.S. counterparts.
    When legalization of marijuana became apparent and then final, some assumed and still assume they can drive while doin marijuana.
    What part don’t these morons get. IT’S STILL UNDER THE INFLUENCE which is what the legislation states.

  • Of course, the man from the pee test company will perpetuate the inflated horrors of someone smoking a little pot on their own time after work. You will be impaired for up to 48 hours? I don’t think so. If he has evidence to prove this, please present it (and the film Reefer Madness does not count.)