By Dr. Bill Howatt, Founder of Howatt HR, C0 – Founder MFIQinc, and Chair of the Technical Committee on the Management of Impairment in the Workplace, and Troy Winters, CUPE Senior Health Safety Officer and Chair of the CSA Strategic Steering Committee on Occupational Health and Safety. Written for CSA Group.

It is recognized that recreational, medical, and other substances like alcohol, cannabis, painkillers, and over-the-counter cold medications can impair workers. Though misuse of such substances is a major concern in Canada’s workplaces, employers must also be mindful of many other impairments like fatigue and psychosocial stress (e.g., work demands) that can negatively impact employees’ mental and physical health.

What employers can do to protect workers from the effects of stress
The relationship between stress and risk of substance use in the workplace
Practical guidance for employers
Five steps to protect workers’ mental health
Additional Resources

What employers can do to protect workers from the effects of stress

Employers committed to protecting workers’ mental health know that not all their stress is work-related. Financial concerns are a significant driver of personal stress that can negatively impact workers’ performance and well-being.

Workers who struggle to deal with stress and are caught in dysregulation are more likely to engage in at-risk coping behaviours like using alcohol or other substances to change their mental state. This can quickly escalate, resulting in a substance use disorder.

Employers cannot remove all workers’ stress. However, they can establish policies and plans to prevent mental harm and support workers’ mental health. Leveraging CSA Z1003, Psychological health and safety in the workplace*, CSA Z1008:21, Management of impairment in the workplace, and CSA Z1011:20, Work disability management system can give employers insights into WHAT they can do.

The relationship between stress and risk of substance use in the workplace

Substance use impairment can increase the risk of injury to employees and operations of an organization in any sector or size — higher in some sectors like construction. A U.S. study reported that 21% of workers were put in danger, injured, had to redo a project, or worked extra hours due to a colleague’s drinking.

Substance abuse or disorders negatively impact workers’ productivity, functioning, dependability, motivation, memory, problem-solving, and social skills.

Practical guidance for employers

The standards were created through a collaborative, consensus-based process that engaged leading Canadian authorities in the field, including participation by employment, labour, occupational health and safety (OHS) regulators, and stakeholders representing general interest and service providers. The standards were developed to provide employers with practical guidance on what they can do, regardless of the size of their organization or sector.

The standards aim to reduce mental harm and promote mental health. Together, they guide employers in mitigating the risk of mental illness and substance use in the workplace:

  • CSA Z1003: Creating a psychologically safe workplace.
    Experiencing excessive levels of negative stress over a period of time or trauma exposure can increase workers’ risk of mental distress and negatively impact their functioning and emotional well-being. CSA Z1003 helps organizations understand how psychosocial risk factors can cause mental harm and contribute to negative stress. It also guides employers in creating a workplace mental health strategy to prevent mental harm and support workers’ mental health.
  • CSA Z1008: Recognizing the impact of substance use and all impairments.
    This standard focuses on substance use in the workplace and provides a framework for employers to manage all types of impairment, including fatigue. It offers considerations for communications and training to help organizations make their employees aware of the harms of substance use and how employers will respond when they suspect someone is experiencing impairment in the workplace.
  • CSA Z1011: Establishing a system for managing disabilities.
    As addiction is now recognized as a substance use disorder, employers must understand their obligation under provincial human rights legislation to provide a person with a substance disorder an accommodation. The standard CSA Z1011 guides employers in facilitating access to care that includes a response to relapse and relapse prevention, and removing barriers to access care, for example, by providing flexible work arrangements.
Five steps to protect workers’ mental health
  • Create an inclusive workplace culture: focus on inclusive and safe cultures that educate workers on the support available when help is needed.
  • Establish norms and expectations: using CSA Z1003, CSA Z1008, and CSA Z1011, define a program to protect workers from mental harm and support impaired workers. Successful programs adhere to a Plan-Do-Check-Act framework to ensure all policies and programs are working and doing what they are supposed to do.
  • Deal with stigma: eliminate stigma to mitigate workers’ fear of seeking help for mental health or substance use concerns.
  • Train leaders in duty to inquire: mental health conditions and substance use disorders frequently manifest as workplace behaviour changes. Leaders must know how to act when they suspect an employee may be experiencing a mental health concern or impairment. Leaders have a duty to inquire whether employees need help, creating an opportunity for their employer to fulfill their duty to accommodate.
  • Respect confidentiality: no information about any disability is to be shared. Ensure controls and systems limit information to those who need to know.
Additional Resources

CSA Group has many resources available to help organizations manage impairment in the workplace, including a no-fee online course for handling substance use disorders as set out in CSA Z1011:20 and CSA Z1008:21.

In addition, CSA Group also developed complimentary, no-fee support tools to help implement these standards in organizations regardless of their size. For more information, visit CSA Group’s webpage focused on managing impairment in the workplace.

*The complete designation and title of the standard is CAN/CSA-Z1003-13/BNQ 9700-803/2013 (R2022), Psychological health and safety in the workplace