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This document covers information about reporting and responding to impairment in the workplace. For more information, please also see the OSH Answers document Impairment at Work – Policy and Recognition.
If impairment is suspected, employers should consider if there is a risk to the individual’s safety or the safety of others. For example, while impaired:
As with any hazard, and as part of their education and training, employees and supervisors will receive education and training to be able to be aware of the signs and symptoms of impairment. If anyone suspects impairment in others or wishes to report their own inability to work safely, this concern should be reported to the supervisor or delegated person(s). Any supervisor or delegated person who received this report will then respond to the concern.
A sample tool is below. Be sure to customize this tool to suit the needs of your workplace.
Reporting should be based on observation – do not assume that, for example, substance abuse is the cause of impairment. Reporting impairment as a hazard is an alert that there are signs of concern about the individual’s ability to work safety or to not endanger the health and safety of others. Reporting is one step in the investigation process.
Sample Tool - Reporting Suspected Impairment
Adapted from: A Toolkit to Address Problematic Substance Use that Impacts the Workplace. Atlantic Canada Council on Addiction (ACCA). (no date)
If a supervisor or co-worker becomes aware of an employee who is showing signs of impairment (regardless of cause) either through a suspected impairment report or observation, it is very important that action is taken. Examples of steps to take include but are not limited to:
Every discussion should be accompanied by an incident report. The report should include the events preceding the incident, identification of the employee’s unsafe work practices, the matters discussed with the employee, that management and union representatives were notified, a list of all actions taken, and any recommendations made to the employee.
Recall it is not the employer or supervisor’s duty to diagnose an employee, or to know if they have a disability. Employers can observe changes in an employee’s attendance, performance, or behaviour. They can initiate a discussion about the issue(s) as related to work, and discuss possible solutions. The discussion between the employer and employee may need to occur more than once. Document all discussions. Provide support and practice empathy, not sympathy. Focus on solutions, but if disciplinary action is necessary, it is important to follow through
An employer’s concern is centred on the individual’s ability to do their tasks safely. Also known as fit (or fitness) for work, this concept describes the ability to perform assigned duties safely and to an acceptable level. Fit for work usually applies to a time period, such as that task or that day. This measure may be used in many situations, including fatigue, alcohol or other substance use, mental health, or medical fitness.
If a worker is considered unfit for work, options include to:
Note: While fit for work is used for a time period or task, there may also be a process called “fit to work ” which often refers to a process involving a medical assessment done when an employer wishes to be sure a worker can safely do a specific job or task. Fit to work assessments are most often done to determine medical fitness after an illness or injury.
The supervisor or a delegated person should have a conversation with any individual who is suspected of being impaired at work. It is best to explore the situation and gather information before coming o conclusions. Stating the concerns should be done in an unbiased and factual manner. Do not place blame or make assumptions. Express the concerns by using statements such as:
Be clear that the intent is to maintain a safe working environment or that the organization is concerned for their well-being. Be prepared to listen to the individual. Do not make assumptions about the cause of the issue. Identify any consequences if the issue continues and what steps must be taken.
Discuss and outline what each party will do and when to improve the issue. Document this discussion. If necessary, determine a time to meet again when the employee is not showing signs of impairment so there can be a meaningful discussion
Other steps a workplace can take include to:
Every discussion should be documented by an incident response report. The report should include the events that happened before the incident, identification of the employee's unsafe work practices, the matters discussed with the employee (while maintaining confidentiality), that management and union representatives were notified if applicable, a list of all actions taken, and any recommendations made to the employee.
A sample tool may be as follows. Be sure to customize this tool to suit your workplace needs.
|Sample Tool – Responding to Suspected Impairment|
|Incidient or Concern Details |
ActionNote: If there is concern employee may be or may become violent or threatening, or may be in need of medical assistance, call security, police, or 911.
|Concerns regarding safety, health, or other work-related issues |
|Details from discussion with employee |
|Discussion of available services, if applicable |
|Safe arrangements (driven by/taxi, other work assigned, etc.) |
|Next steps / Return to work process |
|Notifications made to: |