We frequently associate substance use with impairment, as well as with alcoholism and drug addiction (used legally or illegally). The Canadian Human Rights Commission does not define the term ""appearance of impairment at work,"" but it lists a few examples as follows: ""e.g. odor [sic] of alcohol or drugs, glassy or red eyes, unsteady walk, slurring, poor coordination."" However, a number of circumstances, many of which are transient or brief, can lead to impairment. Problems with family or relationships, physical or mental exhaustion, post-traumatic shock, or medical disorders or treatments are among the things that can make it difficult to concentrate on work. Examples include: feeling the consequences of using drugs or alcohol or other substances (legal or illegal) utilizing medication(s) with negative effects or seeking medical attention (such as radiotherapy causing tiredness, or antibiotics causing nausea) being exhausted from performing many jobs or for extended periods of time experiencing the effects of shift work on one's circadian rhythm assisting a child, a family member, or having a young child during a family crisis experiencing shock or insecurity following a workplace incident, fire, or robbery having unresolved conflict with the employer, or among employees, experiencing sexual harassment or bullying being exposed to extreme cold (which reduces mental alertness and hand dexterity, among other effects) or heat (results in increased irritability, loss of concentration, loss of ability to do skilled tasks or heavy work, etc.) Be aware that other problems, like problematic shopping or gambling, might also lead to distractions, inattention, or making poor decisions at work. They could therefore be viewed as a type of disability. Information on impairment policy and how to identify impairment are covered in this document. For further information, please refer to the OSH Answers document Impairment at Work - Reporting and Responding.
When should a place of employment react to impairment?
Employers should generally take into account if there is a risk to the worker's safety or the safety of others. For instance, while intoxicated: Does the person possess the necessary skills to carry out the job or task (such as driving, operating machinery, or using sharp objects) safely? Does it affect judgment or cognitive function? Consideration of additional side effects of a medical condition or treatment would be one aspect of this examination. Every scenario should be evaluated on an individual basis.
What components should a policy on impairment contain?
The impairment policy should have the following components: Purpose and objectives of the policy and program are stated. the meaning of impairment Who is covered by the policy and program, in brief Statement of the employee's confidentiality rights An explanation of the steps that will be followed when a person's behavior raises questions about how it might affect the workplace or how it might endanger their safety or the safety of others (See the OSH Answers). If impairment is detected, what should be done? (Impairment - Reporting and Responding) a way for staff members to discreetly report when they've been prescribed a drug that might impair them or when they otherwise feel they might be affected An explanation of whether or under what circumstances both medical/therapeutic and non-medical substances are permitted on the property. that plans have been put in place for employee education (e.g., general awareness) that plans have been put in place for training and educating staff members, managers, and others on how to recognize signs of impairment and what to do if it is suspected Assistance for persons with disabilities brought on by substance abuse Processes for accommodations, returning to work, and staying at work suitable sick leave or benefits provisions if applicable, a declaration of the conditions under which substance testing will take place, together with the standards for testing and how test results will be interpreted. A ladder of disciplinary measures is provided. Employers should develop a policy that specifies what constitutes an acceptable code of conduct and an acceptable level of safety performance in consultation with employees, the health and safety committee or representative, and the union (if applicable). Workplaces are encouraged to adopt a policy and practice to maintain safety, address issues with safety performance fairly and effectively, and, where necessary, coordinate or provide assistance in a skilled and consistent manner. The policy may also need to specify how conversations will proceed, what options are available if the ability to work safely is an issue (for example, assigning less safety-critical tasks, sending employees home, etc.), and possible measures. If an employee is permitted to be sent home, it should be made clear whether this action is performed, when it is acceptable, whether it is done using sick leave, and, if applicable, how pay would be affected. It is important to educate and teach managers on how to spot impairment. Most of the time, it is advised to have a second trained person present while evaluating a person for impairment to help ensure an objective assessment. A supervisor's or employer's job is not to diagnose a medical condition or potential drug or alcohol abuse or dependency issue. Their responsibility is to determine whether an employee is impaired and to take the necessary action in accordance with the organization's policy.
What might a disability look like?
Because there are many possible causes of impairment, the employer should create a clear definition of what constitutes impaired behavior in the workplace. The following traits are used by the Canadian Human Rights Commission to describe changes in an employee's attendance, performance, or behavior: personality shifts or unpredictable behavior (e.g. increased interpersonal conflicts; overreaction to criticism) impediment that is visible at work (e.g., odour of alcohol or drugs, glassy or red eyes, unsteady gait, slurring, poor coordination) Working dangerously or participating in an event failing a drug or alcohol test being persistently late or absent from work or producing work of lower quality or productivity There may occasionally be immediate warning signs and symptoms. Other times, a pattern of behavior may raise red flags. The following table, which can be used to assess general impairment, is taken from ""A Toolkit to Address Problematic Substance Use that Impacts the Workplace"" by the Atlantic Canada Council on Addiction (ACCA). The following is what the ACCA says about using signs and symptoms: They could vary from one person to the next. They don't always indicate that someone has a substance use disorder when used separately or in combination. However, they can be signs that your employee needs assistance or is having a difficulty (regardless of if the issue stems from problematic substance use or another cause). Table 1 Signs and Symptoms of Problematic Substance Use (not specific to any causal agent) Indicators Physical deterioration in appearance and/or personal hygiene unexplained bruises sweating complaints of headaches tremors diarrhea and vomiting abdominal/muscle cramps restlessness frequent use of breath mints/gum or mouthwash odour of alcohol on breath slurred speech unsteady gait Psychosocial impacts family disharmony (e.g., how the colleagues speak of family members) mood fluctuations (e.g., swinging from being extremely fatigued to ‘perkiness' in a short period of time) inappropriate verbal or emotional response irritability confusing or memory lapses inappropriate responses/behaviours isolation from colleagues lack of focus/concentration and forgetfulness lying and/or providing implausible excuses for behaviour Workplace performance and professional image calling in sick frequently (may work overtime) moving to a position where there is less visibility or supervision arriving late for work, leaving early extended breaks; sometimes without telling colleagues they are leaving forgetfulness errors in judgement deterioration in performance excessive number of incidents/mistakes non-compliance with policies doing enough work to just ‘get by' sloppy, illegible, or incorrect work (e.g., writing, reports, etc.) changes in work quality Please see the OSH Answers document Impairment at Work - Reporting and Responding for more information."""