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Impaired on the job? There’s a lot at risk

Working while impaired can reduce your motor coordination and reaction time, compromise your judgment and decision-making, and cause mood swings or personality changes. Any of these effects can make an impaired person a hazard to themself, their co-workers and the business. 

“We’re not just talking substance use,” says Dean Anderson, WSPS’ Strategic Advisor, Agriculture. “Long workdays, physical and emotional fatigue, extreme temperatures, and conflict at work or at home are also common causes of impairment that could have serious consequences.” 

The best way to avoid impairment hazards is to ensure you’re fit for work. This means being physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy enough to do the work. Dean offers nine ways to ensure fitness for work. 

  1. Read up on causes and signs of impairment, and share what you learn with family members and employees.  
  2. Get enough sleep. Staying awake for 17 hours is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.05; 21 hours awake equals 0.08, the legal limit in Canada.* Add physical labour and other stresses, and your level of impairment could rise dramatically throughout the day. 
  3. Start your workday fresh and in the right state of mind so that you can stay focused and free of mental distractions. 
  4. Set reasonable expectations about what you and your employees can accomplish each day. 
  5. Stay hydrated and take rest breaks. 
  6. Limit multi-tasking. Avoid distractions, such as using electronic devices while operating machinery. 
  7. Alternate tasks to keep the mind stimulated, especially when working long hours to get the harvest in. 
  8. Avoid compounding forms of impairments. Combining lack of sleep with substance use, prescription or over-the-counter medications, or just plain stress could increase the level of impairment. 
  9. Consider implementing an impairment policy that sets out your approach to managing workplace impairment and minimizing risks, and establishes rules for everyone to follow. 
  10. Find community-based support. Employee and family assistance programs and crisis, distress or addiction support are just some of the resources that can help people with impairment issues. 

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

* “Fatigue,” Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety;