By Tony Kryzanowski
Like it or not, changes in the law will force the Canadian forest industry to consider how the proposed legalization of marijuana, also known as cannabis, could impact industry productivity as a whole, and one-on-one relationships with employees in particular.
That’s because the Canadian government intends to introduce legislation in the spring of 2017 to legalize this currently prohibited drug. It has appointed a task force called the Task Force on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation to advise the government on how best to proceed with legalization.
Experts have concluded that there are adverse effects to marijuana use generally. It can impair cognitive functions, particularly in people under the age of 25, and also manifest itself in symptoms like anxiety and paranoia. Some users also develop a dependency to the drug.
However, it has achieved a certain level of ‘normalization’ in Canadian society. For example, there are currently 14 marijuana and paraphernalia retailers operating in the City of Victoria alone, despite the drug being illegal, except for certain circumstances of prescribed medical use. There are an estimated unlicenced 54 marijuana dispensaries doing business in Vancouver.
So why is the government moving forward with legalization? According to experts like Dr. Scott Macdonald, assistant director of the Centre for Addictions Research for B.C. and also a professor at the School of Health Information Science at the University of Victoria, in addition to the drug having achieved a certain level of ‘normalization’ within Canadian society, legal consequences like having a criminal record for marijuana use and possession are not working as a deterrent.
Macdonald says a total of 57,000 Canadians were convicted of marijuana possession in 2015 alone. While decriminalization would represent an intermediate step where offenders would be fined instead of facing a criminal record, Macdonald says this step would still involve attempting to control marijuana use and proliferation through the justice system, which has already proven ineffective. He says what legalization will permit is a greater level of control, a new income stream for the government with some funds dedicated to public health to help individuals manage the consequences of marijuana use, as well as funding for public education programs related to how marijuana used can impact an individual’s health. This consumer awareness initiative is not occurring through attempting to use the legal system as a control method.
It goes without saying that employee impairment of any kind, whether from drugs, alcohol, or fatigue is a primary concern within the forest sector because of dangerous working conditions involving the operation of high-speed and heavy equipment, as well as logging trucks, either in the mill or in the forest. In forestry, workers can get hurt in a hurry, sometimes threatening both life and limb of the individual and those around them.
“Cannabis has become so normalized and so common that I don’t think there is going to be a great, immediate impact in terms of the workplace,” says Dr. Macdonald.
However, like alcohol, he says that marijuana use on-the-job should not be tolerated, although, there are issues that companies need to address. For example, will marijuana use be permitted at company functions where alcohol is being consumed?
An investigation conducted by the Logging and Sawmilling Journal discovered that unlike the oil and gas sector, which has sent a letter of concern to the Task Force, there does not seem to be that same level of concern among associations representing the forest sector.
Conversely, an oil patch safety organization called Enform, which is funded by industry groups that includes the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, has sent a letter to the Task Force stating in no uncertain terms that, “there can be no doubt that marijuana use is incompatible with working in a safety-sensitive workplace.”
One forestry organization that is working at the forefront of this issue is the BC Forest Safety Council. In June 2015, the council released a document entitled, “Alcohol and Drugs: Canadian Policy Development,” with research conducted by the consulting firm, Barbara Butler and Associates. The document is highly instructive as it provides information about current trends in alcohol and drug use, as well as issues to consider when developing a substance abuse policy.
Making reference to the Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey conducted in 2013, the document points out that alcohol is by far the most prevalent substance used by Canadians, with nearly 76 per cent of Canadian adults reported as being ‘current drinkers.’
“Marijuana continues to be the illicit drug of choice,” the report says. “Some 10.6 per cent of Canadians report being current marijuana users. 48.6 per cent of those age 15-24 report being current users, as do eight per cent of those 25 plus. Reported current cannabis use in B.C. is the highest in Canada, at 13.3 per cent and reported use of any drug was highest at 13.7 per cent.”
There are many good reasons for forest companies of all sizes to prepare themselves for the imminent legalization of marijuana with at least a well-defined and communicated substance abuse policy. For example, some researchers have pointed out that if companies ignore the potential of alcohol or drug use occurring on the job, as well as employees who obviously display impairment, they can become enablers. In other words, if the boss says nothing, then employees begin to believe that the practice is okay, which can lead to more employees taking up the practice, greater potential for impairment, and greater company liability by not providing a safe work environment. Legally speaking, the Supreme Court of Canada has affirmed that a company is required to provide a safe work environment.
While the Canadian government seems eager to legalize marijuana, unlike other countries like the United States, which requires pre-employment and random drug testing for such occupations as truck and bus drivers, the Canadian government has left it up to the courts, through a patchwork of legal decisions, to define the boundaries of a company’s right to conduct drug testing. Some Canadian industries, with cross-border business dealings, have simply adopted the American standard in their Canadian operations.
Although the oil and gas industry has been an industry leader in terms of introducing mandatory drug testing as part of their relations with employees, ironically, it was a Supreme Court decision involving forestry giant Irving Pulp and Paper which determined that employers do not need ‘proof’ of a problem before taking proactive steps, including testing, under certain circumstances. However, the Supreme Court has gone on to require a “bona fide occupational requirement” for companies to introduce a comprehensive drug and alcohol program that includes testing.
Since the Exxon Valdez oil spill incident in the late 1980’s, where the ship’s captain was found to be impaired by alcohol, the oil and gas sector has been a leader in establishing comprehensive drug and alcohol prevention programs, including random testing. What’s interesting is that recently these policies have also extended to contract workers, which if copied by forest companies, could also be extended as a contract requirement for its logging and log haul contractors.
One key finding in the BC Forest Safety Council report is that alcohol and drug testing on its own is no magic bullet to discover and manage issues of alcohol and drug use in the workplace. Dr. Macdonald agrees with this conclusion. In fact, he is no great proponent of pre-employment or random drug testing. He says that all drug testing shows is what the person being tested has used recently, whether alcohol, marijuana or any other drug. It does not prove impairment on the job.
“If a heavy (marijuana) user has used daily and then they stop, they could still test positive for another three weeks after that,” says Macdonald.
So what’s to be done if an employer suspects that an employee may be using marijuana on the job? Rather than relying on random drug testing, Dr. Macdonald says it’s better to find the smoking gun—in this case, the smoking toke. Actual discovery of physical evidence leaves nothing to chance. Another good reason to have a clearly defined substance abuse policy and protocol, such as the requirement to submit to a blood test on demand as a condition of continued employment, is to allow a company to take action should they develop a suspicion of marijuana impairment. One example is the telltale smell of marijuana smoke coming from an employee. They could have policies in place to require immediate submission to a blood test, which is considered the most reliable form of impairment detection, if this occurs. However, legally speaking and to be fair, that door swings both ways, where an accused employee could request an immediate blood test to prove that they are not impaired at work, if they feel they have been unfairly terminated.
The best business reaction to the imminent legalization of marijuana is to adapt current policies related to alcohol use on the job to include marijuana. A substance abuse policy should clearly state the consequences of substance abuse at work or showing up to work impaired, including clear steps with supervisors trained in what to do if they suspect a problem, as well as a comprehensive and well-communicated prevention program to minimize the potential of this issue becoming a problem in the first place.
Forest companies wanting to prepare themselves for the legalization of marijuana, should consider the BC Forest Safety Council as a good resource. It has prepared a video entitled, “How to Implement a Workplace Alcohol and Drug Program,” available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sFHd7OZE8SU. The council has also provided a written, step-by-step document that companies can follow to introduce a Workplace Alcohol and Drug Program. It is available on the Council’s website at www.bcforestsafe.org, under their ‘Resources’ tab.
On the Cover:
A Tigercat 870C buncher at work for D. Lind Contracting in B.C. In this issue, Logging and Sawmilling Journal looks at the situation the forest industry is facing with an increasingly older workforce, and where future equipment operators are going come from, beginning on page 4. (Cover photo courtesy of The Inland Group).
Where are the industry’s future employees going to come from?
There is growing concern in the forest industry about where future loggers and equipment operators are going to come from—and a B.C. logging company is taking action in its own backyard, working closely with a local high school to encourage students to look at the forest industry for their careers.
A new look for B.C.’s coastal forest industry
Forest management in B.C.’s Sea to Sky Corridor has taken on a new look, with majority-owned First Nations companies, such as Sqomish Forestry LP, now being large forestry players in the region.
Forest safety—by satellite
Satellite technology is transforming lone worker safety in the forest industry by ensuring no worker is ever without access to a vital line of communications in the remote locations so common to the industry.
Resolute ramps up Atikokan sawmill
Resolute Forest Products is ramping up its brand new sawmill near Atikokan, Ontario, part of the company’s overall investment of $150 million in the region, creating more than 200 jobs.
A family logging affair
Chris Weare of Nova Scotia’s R&C Weare Logging has readily stepped up to the plate—with the support of family—in running their logging business, a heckuva of a busy business affair with an equipment line-up that includes 13 harvesting machines, 10 tractor trailers hauling wood, and roadbuilding gear.
Alberta’s Spray Lake Sawmills has bounced back from the economic downturn, and is even stronger now thanks to consistent mill improvements—and it is looking to grow its treated wood program.
Getting ready for legal pot
The imminent legalization of marijuana—which could happen as early as this year—provides a good reason for forest companies of all sizes to prepare themselves with at least a well-defined and communicated substance abuse policy.
Building business-and a safe workplace
Ontario logger John Fleming has won two health and safety awards, and has found that in addition to helping build a safe workplace, the awards have helped build his business.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, Alberta Innovates and FPInnovations.
The Last Word
Jim Stirling on how B.C. is dealing with the spruce bark beetle on steroids, and possible containment strategies.