Industry struggles with cannabis use

In a recent interview with CBC News, Garnet Amundson, chief executive of Calgary-based Essential Energy Services, revealed his concerns around testing for cannabis in the workplace. His company provides oilfield services to oil and natural gas producers mainly in Western Canada, and has nearly 400 employees, including 350 in safety-sensitive roles in the oilpatch.

One of Amudson’s biggest concerns is his employees having to pass any type of drug test and arriving to work without any impairment. Since the employees of Essential Energy Services also carry out work at a facility owned by a different firm, they can be subject to testing on the premises of the other company, and would need to meet the standards of the other company as well.

In the last seven months, legalization of recreational cannabis has presented important challenges surrounding drug testing of company employees working on the oil patch. Specifically, one of the issues addressed by Amudson in his interview was the lack of precision in testing for cannabis, since it is not possible to determine the individual’s level of impairment using a urine test for cannabis. Therefore, many industries are struggling to find the balance between respecting the employee’s right to consume the substance, while ensuring that no employees are impaired on the job.

“It’s a challenge for all employers in Canada, but especially small and medium-sized businesses that don’t have the financial or technical resources to manage this themselves.”

Tim Salter, Executive Director, Drug and Alcohol Testing Association of Canada,

Salter explained that since the presence of the main active ingredient of cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), can be detected using a urine test up to 30 days after being consumed, current testing systems do not allow accurate impairment testing. Since urine tests cannot detect impairment, it would also be impossible to determine whether THC contributed to an accident for an employee who tested positive for THC with a urine test.

According to Salter, “Employers are just forced into this corner of promoting abstinence… It’s most definitely a mess because the governments really haven’t done a great job of preparing the industry for the legalization of cannabis.” He noted that the court system will need to make the final decisions on the issues surrounding cannabis in the workplace.

Murray Elliott, the chief executive of Energy Safety Canada, said there has been no increase in the number of workplace accidents since the legalization of cannabis. Elliott also said the accuracy of existing urine cannabis tests is “good” and referred to general guidelines companies can use to determine what level of THC in someone’s body poses a significant risk of impairment.

“There is not necessarily a direct link between the levels of cannabis that show up in testing and whether there is impairment or not. It’s really only a risk of impairment,” said Elliott.

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