While more states have legalized the use of cannabis, be it for recreational or medical use, the National Safety Council continues to believe that “there is no level of cannabis use that is safe or acceptable for employees who work in safety-sensitive positions.”
The nonprofit organization, whose mission is to eliminate preventable deaths at work, in homes and communities through leadership, research, education and advocacy, published a position/policy statement addressing cannabis impairment in safety-sensitive positions, which it defines as “positions where drug impairment can significantly jeopardize the safety of the employee, co-workers, or third parties.”
Under federal law, truck drivers, rail workers and airline crews are subject to drug testing and discipline if they test positive.
It pointed to a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse that found employees who tested positive for cannabis had:
- 55 percent more industrial incidents
- 85 percent more injuries
- 5 percent greater absenteeism compared to those who tested negative
NSC said it was urging employers to implement policies stating that no amount of cannabis consumption is acceptable for those working in safety sensitive positions and supports moving employees to non-safety sensitive operational positions when using cannabis for medical purposes.
Eleven states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use of marijuana, while 22 states allow only medical use of cannabis. Although still not legal under the Controlled Substances Act, there has been legislation proposed to make it legal nationwide.
“Studies have shown that those under the influence of cannabis 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 taken in high doses – hallucinations and delusions,” NSC stated in a news release.
However, NSC said more research is needed to better understand the effects cannabis has on the human mind and body.
The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine suggested earlier this year that while safety sensitive positions should ultimately be left up to the employer, it supports the essential criteria to classify a position as safety sensitive if impairment would:
- Increase safety and health risks to fellow employees, self, contract personnel, or the public
- Adversely affect the environment through contamination of air, water, soil, flora, or fauna
- Jeopardize the community through property damage or peril to members of the public
- Involve the use of firearms, emergency response, and judgment and decision-making that have an immediate impact on the life and health of others.
As the landscape continues to evolve, decisions about how marijuana will be treated in the workplace also will change. Businesses would be advised to have policies in place that address marijuana use and testing so that employees are clear about what is acceptable and what is not.