BY: Rhys Evans
Since its decriminalisation, the use of cannabis has become more socially acceptable over the years. No longer a crime to use cannabis in the privacy of one’s home, it becomes a tricky situation when an employee has used before starting their workday. Cannabis causes functional impairment, which compromises the quality of work and on-the-job performance. Just as with alcohol testing, testing for cannabis needs to become more prominent and consistent in the workplace. This starts with a clear, company policy on intoxicating substances in the workplace.
Cannabis can affect an employee’s capacity to do their job in various ways. This can manifest as performing tasks more slowly, or performing poorly when handling routine, monotonous tasks. It can also create difficulty in multi-tasking, taking instruction, making critical decisions (particularly in high-risk situations) as well as difficulty in driving or operating machinery. It is these difficulties that an employer will need to assess when an employee tests positive for cannabis use.
Occupational health and safety
In the case of an employee that uses cannabis in the morning before work, despite using it in their private time, where the result is intoxication in the workplace, the employer has grounds for instituting disciplinary action, starting with a substance test. This is because occupational health and safety legislation clearly states that no person under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs may be permitted into the workplace.
Because testing methods for recent consumption of cannabis was not commonly available, enforcing a workplace substance policy isn’t easy. While its presence could be detected in a person for in excess of 14 days after use by standard urine test, this doesn’t help pinpoint the time of use in order to link the substance with the individual being intoxicated in the workplace. This necessitates an extensive disciplinary inquiry into surrounding circumstances, examining whether the person appeared intoxicated and whether they operated heavy machinery and caused damage or harm.
Today, however, technology for substance testing has matured to enable a level of convenience not previously there. Saliva testing is an important advancement as it’s non-invasive, easy to administer and it is faster and more accurate than was possible before. Saliva testing makes it possible to test for the primary drug compound which is the actual substance which causes intoxication. Testing for the compound that causes intoxication can give us a better indication of recent usage and current impairment. Saliva testing for Dagga has a particularly short window of detection giving a good indication of recent usage.
The cost of safety
While substance test kits can seem a costly operational expense, it’s important to consider the cost of damaged equipment and employee downtime, alongside legal ramifications of a workplace accident where an employee is intoxicated. It’s also important to bear in mind that while not every employee will need to be tested, since testing can be random or done under suspicion of use, testing should be done on a consistent basis in order to create a strong deterrent effect. Furthermore, kits that test for multiple drugs at once can also be useful. For example, there are six-panel saliva tests that cover the most popular substances. Although an employee might not be using the substance they are suspected of, there could be something else picked up through multi-panel testing.
Workplace culture of sobriety
The goal is not to create a punitive culture in which testing is used to enforce disciplinary measures. Starting with a clearly communicated workplace intoxication policy, alongside ongoing educational initiatives on the dangers of substance abuse, the goal is to establish a culture of safety and sobriety by breaking the culture of alcoholism and substance abuse that can quickly take root in an organisation.