Is your alcohol and drug policy up to date?

Friday, November 01, 2019

Policy development and implementation

In a series of articles, Workplace Safety North reviews (1) Statistics regarding alcohol and drug use in Canada, (2) Legislation and balancing due diligence with privacy, (3) Policy development and implementation, and (4) Roles and responsibilities of supervisors and workers, plus resource information below.

With the December 2016 release of the final report from the Marijuana Task Force and the legalization of marijuana in Canada, this is a good time to review your workplace health and safety policy regarding alcohol and drug use, and, if you don’t have a policy, it’s time to create one. 

How to create a drug and alcohol policy

Establishing a clear and comprehensive workplace policy is one of the most effective ways to prevent workplace alcohol and drug problems, and to effectively investigate and take corrective action. Your company must decide what will work best in your environment; there is no ‘one size fits all’ policy. 

“An effective policy allows employers and employees to be clear about what is acceptable and not acceptable in the workplace,” says Tom Welton, Industrial Director at Workplace Safety North (WSN). “Policies generally have four goals: reduce safety risks, improve employee health, reduce employer liability, and improve productivity. Although every workplace is different, most take a similar overall approach and place a strong emphasis on prevention through education, training, and access to assistance. That is balanced with specific initiatives to deter use.”

The local health unit is available to consult and assist businesses with the creation and implementation of an alcohol and drug policy. “I work with a lot of companies through the Safe Workplace Ontario certification program,” says Bernie Stockermans, WSN Health and Safety Specialist, “and I’ve come across some really good examples of what companies are doing. 

“One question that has come up more often in the last few years is how to address the issue of workers who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. There’s a concern about how to properly confront these workers and attempt to remove them from safety-sensitive tasks, or in severe cases, to be dismissed.”

Drug testing is often not an option for smaller companies, according to Stockermans, so clearly written policies and procedures on how to address workers under the influence is often the only option for small business. “A lot of small business owners ask me for resources on preventing alcohol and drug use in their workplace and I recommend their local health unit, as well their guideline from the Ontario Public Health Association,” he says.

“If employees are using and there’s an issue, then yes, it’s due diligence,” says Sudbury Public Health Nurse Brenda Stankiewiecz, “something you need to do as a workplace. A policy is extremely important and I would suggest for people to approach their local health unit because most have policy people who are able to look at what’s there in the workplace; they can provide a sample policy and help you shape it to your particular business.”

Benefits of an alcohol and drug policy

  • Improve workplace health and safety
  • Decrease Workplace Safety and Insurance Board costs
  • Reduce legal liability 
  • Reduce absenteeism and production error
  • Demonstrate a supportive and healthy environment where both employees and management have a clear understanding of how the organization deals with substance use in the workplace

Policy dos and don’ts

  • Create a policy to meet the specific needs of your workplace; do not simply copy one.
  • Let your workplace know the plan is being developed and invite staff input
  • Communicate in advance of implementation and afterward, don’t just stick the policy in filing cabinet
  • Ensure the policy is consistently applied and enforced, don’t be an enabler for substance abusers or knowingly put workers at risk

Read all articles in series: (1) Statistics regarding alcohol and drug use in Canada, (2) Legislation and balancing due diligence with privacy, (3) Policy development and implementation, and (4) Roles and responsibilities of supervisors and workers.

For more information, please contact


Substance abuse top health and safety risk at sawmills - WSN

Impairment and Workplace Health and Safety - Ministry of Labour

Cannabis legalization - Government of Ontario

Many questions need examining to establish effects of legalized cannabis on work safety...what we know — and don’t — about OHS implications of legalized cannabis - Institute for Work and Health


Much of the information in this article comes from three main sources, which include research, guidelines, sample policies and much more:

Let’s Take Action on Alcohol Problems in the Workplace – Ontario Public Health Association. Includes how to develop and implement an alcohol and drug policy; sample policy; resource list; three checklists: (1) Policy Process; (2) Policy Content; (3) Policy Implementation.

Alcohol and the Workplace: Toolkit – Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health

Canadian Model for Providing a Safe Workplace: Alcohol and Drug Guidelines and Work Rule - A best practice of the Construction Owners Association of Alberta

Cannabis White Paper 2018 - CCOHS

General Information

A Framework for the Legalization and Regulation of Cannabis in Canada - Final Report - Government of Canada

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety

Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse

Canadian Mental Health Association

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

How to prepare an occupational health and safety policy - Ontario Ministry of Labour

Policy on Drug and Alcohol Testing - Ontario Human Rights Commission