OHS Canada Magazine

New CSA standard will help in managing impairment at work

May 26, 2020
By Bill Howatt and Troy Winters
Compliance & Enforcement Health & Safety Human Resources Accident Prevention CSA Standards impairment Workplace

To keep your workplace safe, all forms must be considered

A new CSA standard on managing workplace impairment will soon be released in draft form for public review. (WildPixel/Getty Images)

In less than two weeks, the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) will release the public review draft of the new standard CSA Z1008:21, Management of impairment in the workplace.

Draft standards are available for public review and comment before they are approved by the committee. Once complete, this standard will be available for viewing, along with an implementation guide at no cost to the public and any organization that wishes to use it.

Impairment in the workplace is a serious health and safety concern that can lead to workers putting themselves and others at risk of injury.

Beyond drugs, alcohol

Workplace impairment is not caused just by drugs and alcohol. As noted by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), a worker may be impaired by the effects of many external influences in which their productivity, physical or mental abilities are reduced including:

  • experiencing the effects of substance use, including alcohol or other drugs (legal or illegal)
  • treating illness or using medication with side effects (such as radiotherapy causing tiredness, or antibiotics causing nausea)
  • having fatigue
  • being tired due to long work periods, or working more than one job
  • experiencing the disruption to body circadian rhythm caused by shift work
  • having a crisis in the person’s family
  • assisting a child or a family member or having a young infant
  • preparing for an external activity such as an exam or wedding
  • experiencing shock or insecurity after a workplace incident, fire, or robbery
  • having an unresolved conflict with the employer, or among employees
  • experiencing sexual harassment or bullying
  • being exposed to extreme cold (results in lower mental alertness, less dexterity in hands) or heat (results in increased irritability, loss of concentration, loss of ability to do skilled tasks or heavy work).

This new standard, which is the first of its kind anywhere in the world, will help small, medium and large Canadian organizations with guidance on how to proactively manage the potential for impairment in the workplace.


What’s in the standard

To truly help keep your workplace safe, all forms of impairment must be considered if relevant to the organization.

The draft new standard follows the template of other safety management systems standards from CSA.  There are significant sections providing information for companies to consider on how leadership and commitment can lead to a healthy and safe workplace where impairment is destigmatized, and workers feel comfortable seeking assistance.

Though the draft standard covers all forms of impairment, it must be recognized that the use of substances including alcohol, opioids and cannabis (among others) is a significant concern for employers. To help with this, the draft standard has an entire additional section specifically towards the management of impairment related to substance use which includes sections on testing.

Policy development

With so many impairment considerations to assess, many companies have trouble developing the right management policy.

The aim of this draft new standard is to help companies by taking them though the considerations for a proper workplace assessment that can, in turn, guide policies and practices to responsibly manage impairment.

Training and communication

The best policy in the world will not help your organization if workers are not aware of it and the requirements.  Workers need training, and companies need a communications strategy.

The draft standard sets out requirements for what needs to be in a communications plan and what should be covered in training for both workers and management.

Investigations and response

Organizations must treat each suspected case of impairment in a fair manner.

It is important the organizations have the capacity to deal with suspected cases of impairment before the first case shows up.

The draft standard outlines the process and requirements for an organization (especially the supervisor) to respond to potential cases.


Some forms of impairment can trigger a legal requirement for an accommodation, while others may simply just require understanding.

It is important for the organization to understand and follow the duty to inquire, identify issues and explore substance use disorder as soon as it is relevant to the situation.

If a formal accommodation is needed, the draft standard provides a wealth of information on the ways to establish and run an accommodation.

Continual review

No matter how much time is spent setting up a management system for impairment, an organization must review and course correct when issues are identified.

For those interested in commenting on the new standard, keep checking https://publicreview.csa.ca/.

Updates on this standard after public review will be posted to https://community.csagroup.org/community/ohs.

Bill Howatt is the Ottawa-based president of Howatt HR, and chair of the CSA Z1008 technical committee. For more information, visit https://www.howatthr.com. Troy Winters is the senior health and safety officer at the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) in Ottawa and Vice-Chair of the CSA Z1008 technical committee. For more information, visit https://cupe.ca/health-and-safety.

This story originally appeared on Talent Canada.


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