The chairman of the Canadian Association of Mold Makers is calling for a zero-tolerance policy that would ban the use of cannabis by employees in manufacturing, where safety is critical.
“I think for any heavy industrial machinery where lives are at risk, I think zero tolerance is the only option,” said Jonathon Azzopardi, who is also president of Laval International, a moldmaking company based in the Windsor region.
“We have to wear safety glasses when we’re on the shop floor,” Azzopardi said. “Both parties are punished, and there’s a zero-tolerance level for not wearing safety glasses.
“For us zero tolerance is you cannot have [cannabis] in your system when at work and the employee is in charge of making sure they have none in their system at work.”
Azzopardi acknowledged employers cannot deny someone their right to use cannabis outside of their working hours, but he’s concerned about the unknowns around the now-legal drug.
“Our industry is a life-or-death situation, and we believe those rules should be different for us than for those in an office environment,” he said.
IMPAIRMENT A ‘GREY AREA’
The recreational use of cannabis became legal Oct. 17. Under the federal Cannabis Act, Canadians age 18 or older can possess up to 30 grams of legal cannabis in its dried or “equivalent nondried form” in public.
A Nanos Research survey conducted for CTV News indicated that 71 per cent of Canadians polled were not interested in smoking marijuana once it became legal.
Unlike alcohol, THC, the chemical in marijuana, can remain in a user’s system for days, weeks or months. But a positive drug test does not necessarily imply impairment, either.
“These are very grey areas and, unfortunately, I have a feeling somebody is going to get hurt before someone takes the time to do a full-blown study on the long-term and short-term effects of marijuana,” Azzopardi said.
He wants the federal government to consider giving employers the right to test for drugs when impairment is suspected. “If an employee in our case was under the influence and operating heavy machinery and was to kill somebody, we, as the employer, have no way to defend ourselves.”
The new cannabis legislation has created a “panic” among employers, said Justine Laurier, an employment and labour lawyer with Borden Ladner Gervais. The difficulty in determining cannabis-related impairment sees to be the main concern among employers in “safety-sensitive environments,” she said. “There’s no way to detect impairment from a scientific point of view.”
Employers, Laurier said, are questioning whether they will be allowed to prohibit employees from using cannabis “off the clock.” It’s a question with no clear answer at this time, she said.
“From a medical point of view, we don’t know what the effect is,” Laurier said. “We don’t know how long THC can stay in your bloodstream. There are different effects on different people.”
Police forces and airlines have made such recommendations, but Unifor, the union representing most autoworkers in Canada, has warned that it will not accept a zero-tolerance policy for its members.
In an interview with the London Free Press, Niki Lundquist, a lawyer for Unifor, said the union is preparing for a fight on the issue.
“We’re seeing zero-tolerance policies — but it’s not just zero tolerance for impairment, it’s zero tolerance for use,” she said. “It’s as though an employer suddenly thinks it has the right to police off-duty conduct.”
Unifor represents 315,000 members, including almost 50,000 auto industry workers across Canada.
‘TREAT IT LIKE ALCOHOL’