Safety and OSHA News

NSC, ACOEM: Time to address legal marijuana and workplace safety

Policy statements from two safety organizations in the space of one week show the high priority of addressing legal marijuana use and safety in the U.S. workforce. 

In a policy position, the National Safety Council calls on employers to restrict cannabis use for those in safety-sensitive positions. The NSC defines safety-sensitive positions as those that impact the safety of the employee and others as a result of performing that job.

The NSC also supports moving employees who are using cannabis for medical purposes to non-safety-sensitive positions.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people under the influence of marijuana can experience:

  • impaired body movement
  • altered senses
  • difficulty with thinking and problem solving
  • impaired memory
  • an altered sense of time
  • changes in mood, and
  • when taking in high doses, hallucinations and delusions.

The NSC also calls for more marijuana research to discover a way to detect cannabis impairment.

Request for Congressional action

A statement from the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) calls on Congress to consider workplace safety before passing any legislation legalizing marijuana.

The ACOEM says the current patchwork of state laws addressing marijuana use and workplace safety is detrimental to employees, employers and the general public because of the differences among the laws.

The organization of occupational physicians and associated professionals notes OSHA’s General Duty Clause requires employers to take responsibility to protect employees from workplace illness or injury, therefore companies are required to prevent workers impaired by marijuana from exposing themselves, co-workers and the general public to risk of harm.

Declaring ‘safety-sensitive’ not enough

Is the solution for employers to declare a job safety-sensitive to deal with the increasing number of states with legal medical or recreational marijuana?

Employers have to go a bit further than that, according to attorney and safety specialist Adele Abrams.

In a session at the American Society of Safety Professionals Safety 2019 conference, Abrams said if an employee who has a medical marijuana license asks their employer for accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act or state law, the legal burden is on the employer to show that there is a direct threat to safety.

“This is one area that employers get wrong a lot,” Abrams said. “It leads to litigation.”

When drafting your company’s policy on safety-sensitive jobs and marijuana, it’s best to include reasons why a job is safety-sensitive. Just labeling a position is safety sensitive won’t satisfy some courts.

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