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March 2005  - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

GUEST COLUMN

Drug awareness is every worker’s responsibility

By Sue Moran

It started out like any other day as Frank woke from a sound sleep when the alarm rang out. He quickly showered, dressed, and grabbed a piece of toast on the way out the door, not unlike any other day. Frank was anxious to get to work to talk to his co-worker, Kelly, who had gone to a rock concert the night before. Frank and Kelly had worked together for three years; Frank was a stockkeeper and Kelly was a forklift driver.

They ran into each other in the sawmill’s parking lot and, as they headed into work, Frank was thinking that Kelly looked rough. All the symptoms of having enjoyed a few joints and drinks the nights before. The forest company Frank worked for had strict health and safety policies, and he was always considerate and attentive in following good safety practices. Frank was always aware of the dangers in their workplace that could affect the safety of his job performance and that of his co-workers. Later that morning, Frank was working on the ladder and could see Kelly moving towards him on the forklift. It seemed that Kelly was having some difficulty operating the forklift—Frank watched Kelly approach and hit the corner of some packages.

Instead of stopping to fix the mess he created, Kelly continued in Frank’s direction and he quickly realized that Kelly was heading for his ladder. BANG! The forklift hit the legs of the ladder, sending Frank crashing to the concrete floor. Physical therapy followed and in rehab Frank had many months to consider the events leading up to the incident. He asked himself how this could have happened and was there anything that he could have done to prevent the incident. Frank learned that the effects of marijuana are not always short term but, in fact, can stay in your system for several hours and even days. He learned that it impairs judgment, eye-hand co-ordination, and fine motor skills after smoking a single joint.

It can also distort hearing, vision, and sense of time, while also making you relaxed and lethargic. Frank had first blamed Kelly entirely for the incident and then realized that he had allowed the unsafe situation to continue. He had enabled, not just Kelly, but some of his other co-workers who had come to work while still under the influence or experiencing the side effects of some drugs. Frank did survive and now realizes how lucky he is to be sharing his story. He had always thought that he was taking personal responsibility to ensure he was operating in a safe work environment.

Frank now realizes that it was also part of his personal and moral responsibility to speak up when considering all the factors that could affect his safety and that of his co-workers. By remaining silent, Frank had enabled his co-worker’s behaviour and had jeopardized everyone’s personal safety. Adding an interesting sidelight—and potential legal liability—to this story is the federal government-implemented Bill C-45 on March 31, 2004. The bill establishes criminal liability for organizations and individuals when they fail to take responsible steps to prevent workplace accidents that affect workers.

The original recommendations were intended to create specific liability for directors and officers. Bill C-45 has widened that scope by proposing to amend the term “representative” to mean a director, partner, employee, member, agent or contractor of that organization. It is clear that substance abuse continues to be a known and contributing factor to injuries and death not only in the forest industry, but also in many workplaces across our country. Individuals attempting to function in the workplace while under the influence can affect everyone through higher accident rates, errors in judgment, careless handling of machinery and equipment, needless risk taking, productivity problems, disregard of safety to fellow employees, families, and the community at large. Many organizations have taken steps to assist their employees and now provide EFAP (Employee, Family Assistance Programs) to help those who seek assistance.

There are also many government-funded and private organizations across the country that can provide help. Groups such as the Northern BC Council on Substance Abuse (NBCCSA) believe that education and knowledge within all levels of an organization are key factors to preventing injuries. Educating our workforce in developing policy and best practices around substance abuse will build safer, stronger workforces. The NBCCSA feels that there is a need to determine the current perception and facts surrounding the perceived and actual severity of issues of substance use in the workplace. As a result, the NBCCSA recently employed a qualified substance abuse prevention specialist to undertake a Workplace Substance Abuse Needs Assessment with its northern British Columbia membership. The final report was presented at the Action North 2004 Conference in Prince George recently.

The NBCCSA offers workshops to assist business, both large and small, in their efforts to develop workplaces free from substance abuse. Some topics covered in the workshops include; attitudes, how to prepare for action, understanding enabling and intervention, effective documentation and interviewing techniques, responsibility, drug identification, signs and symptoms. The analysis of the Needs Assessment project will further enable the council to build and offer effective workshops. Biennial Action North conferences will continue to re-enforce this effort, featuring expert speakers and are interesting to a wide variety of business and industry representatives, as well as EFAP and Safety committee members. These efforts, along with other efforts by organizations across the country, help to keep our workplaces, communities, and families healthy and safe.

Sue Moran is Action North 2004 conference co-ordinator, Northern British Columbia Council on Substance Abuse. (www.actionnorth.net) .

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