Cannabis in the Workplace

A Drug and Alcohol Policy

Deon Bester.jpg

Over the past few years, the Western Cape has consistently had a higher accident frequency rate than other regions in the country and, with the average cost of an accident being lower in the Western Cape, these accidents appear to be less serious. Occupational health and safety professionals within the industry have found, based on anecdotal evidence, that this could be attributed to the inordinately high use of cannabis, together with other substances, in this part of the country.

This is according to Deon Bester, Occupational Health and Safety Manager at the Master Builders Association of the Western Cape (MBAWC) – a registered trade association for employers in the building industry. The organisation recently held a workshop to understand the workplace implications of the Constitutional Court’s decriminalisation of the personal use of cannabis. Talks were delivered by experts in the areas of occupational health and safety, toxicology and addiction, with the aim of protecting construction industry employers and their employees too.

Unpacking the topic of ‘A Drug and Alcohol Policy’, Rudelle van der Merwe, Occupational Hygienist at Safenet Africa said that when drafting a drug and alcohol policy, this should be done in consultation with a Union or Employee Representative. “Once completed, it must be approved by all parties. The policy should include a list of prohibited substances and why they are prohibited; the procedure to be followed if an employee is suspected of being intoxicated; how to determine if someone is under the influence; methods and frequency of testing; action to be followed in the case of positive test results and acceptable limits of alcohol and drugs found in tests.”

In his discussion on The Legal, Ethical and Scientific Aspects of Prohibited Substance Regulation and Testing in the Workplace with Reference to Cannabis, Senior Lecturer at the University of Pretoria, Professor Tim Laurens, said: “While most drug and alcohol policies are ‘Zero Tolerance’, this does not mean that tests must have zero concentration. In order for people to still be able to enjoy their constitutional right to use cannabis, I recommend setting the allowable threshold levels for detection in the drug and alcohol policy low enough so that the person is not impaired or intoxicated, whilst still enabling them to use the substance should they wish.”

Counselling Psychologist and Addiction Care Specialist, Chris Prins, cautioned that cannabis use not only poses a serious risk for accidents and injuries, but also makes the user more prone to health problems and emotional instability. He added that, these days, cannabis has greater addiction potential due to higher concentrations of THC, the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis. “In the 1960s, the THC content was generally between 1% and 2%. Now, the THC content can be as high as 20%.”

Bester concluded the day’s talks by saying: “The safety and futures of our employees hinge on having a drug and alcohol policy in place and conducting testing in a way that is ethical, legal and scientific.”

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Issue 58