Since the legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada back in October, workers and employers alike have worried about how this would affect an individual’s ability to be fit for duty.
But being fit for duty is much broader than the new cannabis legislation and other important factors are being left out of the conversation. Employers and workers should be aware that in addition to cannabis and alcohol, there are other causes of impairment (e.g., prescription and non-prescription drugs, fatigue, lack of physical capacity). It’s up to management and workers to identify contributors to impairment at their worksites and in their own personal lives and ensure everyone arrives and remains fit for duty while at work.
We understand that it’s not as easy as it sounds.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the US, fit for duty means that “an individual is in a physical, mental, and emotional state which enables the employee to perform the essential tasks of his or her work assignment in a manner which does not threaten the safety or health of oneself, co-workers, property, or the public at large”.
While discussions about being fit for duty often focus on managing alcohol and drugs, there are other matters that must be addressed when evaluating a worker’s fitness for duty.
- Physical Factors such as physical demands, vision and hearing
- Physiological Factors such as fatigue, alcohol and drugs, workplace exposures
- Psycho-social Factors such as risk tolerance, culture, and emotional state
- Communication Factors such as hand signals, common language, understanding
Additional examples, also from the oil and gas industry, show how complicated assessing fitness for duty can be. They identify a number of unusual examples that could affect an individual’s fitness for duty:
- A worker with a pacemaker working around magnetic pumps
- A worker who is pregnant and could be exposed to reproductive toxins (e.g., toluene)
- A worker who can’t eat or drink during the day due to religious constraints
- A worker who has a valid driver’s license, but reduced vision
- A worker with reduced ability to handle stress because of family problems
- A worker with a combination of mental, physical, and physiological stressors
It’s clear that being fit for duty isn’t always as simple as modifying consumption of alcohol and drugs (recreational, prescription or illegal).
To assist our clients in determining worker fitness for duty, we created a fit for duty practice that can be used to evaluate and manage fitness for duty.
Here are a few excerpts:
A statement of the company’s expectation
Our company requires that all employees and contractors arrive and remain fit for duty while on company business, on company worksites and when on scheduled call. Fit for duty means being physically, psychologically and mentally competent and able to safely and effectively perform assigned duties and responsibilities without any limitations, including those caused by a variety of factors, not just the use or after-effects of alcohol or drugs. Working when you are not fit creates a potential risk to your safety and the safety of others near you.
A description of being fit for duty including:
Compliance with the company’s Alcohol and Drug Policy
Ensuring the worker is physically capable of doing the task
Being aware of psychological and mental conditions that might interfere with the job (e.g., depression, anxiety, stress, fatigue, illness)
Acknowledging any illnesses or injuries that might be a factor
Observing and assessing anyone who appears to be unfit for work
Taking steps to deal with situations where a worker is unfit for work:
Stopping the activity
Investigating the report
Removing the worker as needed and ensuring they are treated with dignity and respect
This brief summary is an example of the guidance provided for ensuring that workers are fit for duty.
Related to Fit For Duty, we also provide an Alcohol and Drug Policy, a statement of Employee Rights for Responsibilities to Refuse Unsafe Work, and a Fatigue Management practice. Overall, we provide over 100 policies and procedures to assist employers and employees to deal more effectively with a wide variety of Health, Safety and Environmental (HSE) issues