No Level of Pot Use Acceptable for ‘Safety Sensitive’ Workers

One thing is clear about marijuana in the workplace: “It is unsafe to be under the influence of cannabis while working in a safety-sensitive position,” says the National Safety Council. NSC found such impairment can lead to injury or death for both operators under the influence and others.

NSC laid out its position in a recent policy statement, in support of transferring medical marijuana users to non-safety sensitive positions. The American Industrial Hygiene Council has concurred with that idea.

A “safety-sensitive” position impacts the safety of the employee or others as a result of performing the job. Being under the influence adds another layer of risk.

Ten states, including California, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado, have legalized the personal use of marijuana. Another 23 states have decriminalized its use. Three other states allow the use of medical marijuana.

“…employees who tested positive for cannabis had 55% more industrial accidents, 85% more injuries and 75% greater absenteeism.” –– NSC

Cannabis, NSC says, is the most widely used “illicit” substance in the world. “The amount of THC [tetrahydrocannabinol] detectable in the body does not directly correlate to a degree of impairment,” the Safety Council acknowledges, but adds that it believes that “there is no level of cannabis use that is safe or acceptable for employees who work in safety-sensitive positions.”

Studies Prove Dangers

Indeed, a study reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse asserts that employees who tested positive for cannabis had 55% more industrial accidents, 85% more injuries and 75% greater absenteeism compared to workers who tested negative. The study was of postal workers. The institute says other studies also suggest or conclude there are “specific links between marijuana use and adverse consequences in the workplace.”

The substance affects people in various ways, including relaxation, sedation, disorientation, impaired judgment, and lack of concentration, NSC notes. It also affects fine motor skills, increased appetite, dry mouth, red eyes, and an elevated heart rate. “These effects contribute to impaired learning, short-term memory, and attention deficits, and delayed decision-making,” the council says.

NSC and other organizations also point to increased vehicle collisions from stoned drivers, as well as hospitalizations and other public health indicators.

Studies suggest specific links between marijuana use and adverse consequences in the workplace.

A study by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area found that the yearly rate of emergency department visits related to marijuana increased 52% after legalization in Colorado.

And the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that police-reported collisions increased more than 5% in the rate of crashes per million vehicle registrations after marijuana was legalized in Colorado, as measured against states where the drug is not legal.

Calls for More Research

NSC is calling for more comprehensive data and research to understand the effects of marijuana and cannabis products better. While there is substantial anecdotal evidence, “there is not enough research to reach consensus on any of these cannabis-related subjects at this time,” it says.

An NSC survey earlier this year that 81% of employers are concerned about cannabis having a negative effect on their workplaces. But only 54% said their written policies cover legal use; 24% said they would fire an employee found to be misusing legal cannabis. Only 7% said they would relocate such an employee to a position of lesser responsibility.

Employers in some states have the legal right to prohibit drug use in the workplace and test employees’ pre-employment, and hired workers when there is cause.

A firm legal definition of what constitutes marijuana impairment is still undetermined.