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Manage workplace impairment during the pandemic with these six steps

Raise the issue of COVID-19 and impairment, and our minds may go in multiple directions. Increased substance use from isolation and stress, for one; extreme fatigue from overwork for another. But these are just two forms of impairment.

CSA Standard Z1008:21, Management of impairment in the workplace defines impairment as "a temporary physical, psychological, or physiological state of the worker that has a negative impact on performance or creates a hazard in the workplace."

"There are a number of possible causes of impairment," says WSPS Workplace Mental Health Consultant Kristy Cork. "Fatigue, working in extreme temperatures, a temporary disability, organizational instability, excessive workload, conflict in the workplace or at home, and more."

Any of them could compromise our ability to do our job safely, making us a hazard to ourselves and others.

Now add the COVID-19 factor. "Many essential workers have experienced extended working hours and high levels of job stress. Others have faced multiple physical and mental health challenges working from improvised home offices. As workplaces shift from a pandemic to an endemic approach to COVID-19, this may be an ideal time to review and update your impairment policy to reflect this new reality."

That’s if you have an impairment policy. Most employers put a substance abuse policy in place well before the pandemic, but substance abuse is just one aspect of impairment. Kristy offers six possible steps for addressing workplace impairment.

  1. Recognize as an organization that we all manage our way through this pandemic differently. "It's important to acknowledge we're going through a hard time, and it's okay to not be okay. We also need to be understanding and offer support and resources."
  2. Conduct a hazard assessment to identify and address workplace factors that may contribute to impairment. "There could be a number of possibilities - fatigue, working in extreme temperatures, a temporary disability, organizational instability, excessive workload, conflict in the workplace or at home, and more. Any of them could contribute to impairment."
  3. Create an impairment policy that sets out the workplace's approach to the issue. Establish expectations and responsibilities of all workplace parties, and procedures to follow.
  4. Provide information and instruction on impairment. Among other things, this could include 1) educating all employees on the impairment policy, 2) informing them of their responsibilities under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and 3) training them on the dangers of using equipment or machinery while impaired, and how to recognize signs of impairment.
  5. Create a culture where people are encouraged to disclose possible impairment. Start by demonstrating through policy and actions that you will accommodate people who disclose, and offer support and access to resources. "While it's not something that can be done overnight, talking about it, encouraging self-reporting, and demonstrating that you support your employees will help to create a culture in which they feel safe coming forward."
  6. Provide ready access to supports. Employee and family assistance programs and community-based crisis, distress, or addiction support are just some of the resources that can help workers with impairment issues.

How WSPS can help


The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.