The occupational health and safety risks associated with farming have long been known. The introduction of recreational (legalized) cannabis, which will take effect on October 17, 2018, adds uncertainty for farmers, even if they are not part of the cannabis production or growing industry.
All provinces and territories have occupational health and safety legislation that broadly applies to all industries, including farming and agribusiness. While the specific requirements may differ from one jurisdiction to the next, most require that a farming or agribusiness employer prepare and review, at least annually, a written occupational health and safety policy, as well as develop and maintain a program to implement that policy. In Ontario, for example, an employer who regularly employs more than five employees must have a program in place to implement its occupational health and safety policy. In Saskatchewan, most employers with 10 or more workers must have an occupational health and safety program.
Workplace occupational health and safety policies and programs play an important role with respect to recreational cannabis. Written policies that are communicated to staff through regular training and reminders establish expectations around employee behaviour while at work. By clearly setting expectations around impairment on the farm, agribusiness and farming employers can then rely on those expectations for performance management (discipline) or as part of a due diligence defence in the event an incident occurs that causes damage to equipment or person, and leads to occupational health and safety charges.
While farming and agribusiness occupational health and safety policies may more often focus on the use of large farm equipment or procedures specific to the farming operation, it is equally important to consider the use of workplace policies for impairment. Recreational cannabis will be treated much like alcohol – employees are still expected to attend at work fit for duty and are not permitted to consume alcohol or cannabis while at the work site. However, cannabis legalization is a good opportunity to ensure your farming or agribusiness occupational health and safety policies meet best standards, which includes updating your policies to include expectations around impairment in the workplace and how suspected impairment will be treated by the farming employer.
Miller Thomson is always pleased to assist employers with updating or drafting their workplace policies, including worksite occupational health and safety policies and programs. Please contact Amy Groothuis or Carol VandenHoek for more information.