As Canada moves towards October and its official date for legalization across the country, many are speculating about the effect this will have on the daily life of Canadians. One question that isn’t asked often enough, however, is what is the future of occupational safety post-legalization? Early this year, one Nova Scotia company began to take this question very seriously.

"We attended many conferences last year on safety, and there was usually a breakout session for cannabis legalization afterwards," Steven Sayle, Founder and CEO of The Sayle Group, told Civilized, explaining the origins of the idea.

"Every time, the room was jam-packed. Obviously, the industry was starving for information, but the lecturers were either lawyers, business men or toxicologists. What seemed to be missing was general workplace safety education and occupational health and safety."

Based on this gap, The Sayle Group decided that they would create a program to help pursue this niche in the industry. The company was also attracted to the way legalization has been approached in the county, citing its "professionalism" and its emphasis on corporate responsibility.  

The program, which soft-launched in the spring but had a more resolute hard-launch in July, is currently comprised of five modules, although Sayle says that they are always working to develop more. The modules are available on any platform and are designed to educate employers navigate safety in the workplace post-legalization.

The overall goal of the program, Sayle said, was to train employers on how to understand and identify causes for reasonable suspicion surrounding impairment.

"It comes down to a very fundamental process that’s been legally proven to protect the rights and responsibilities of both the employers and employees," he said. "They need to follow a process for a cause for reasonable suspicion and that’s to identify situations, to document, and address the employee."

These, Sayle pointed out, are the key words. Once the risk is identified and properly documented, they are able to address the issue as they see fit, be it with drug testing, rehabilitation, or whatever else is deemed necessary.

In the past, the group has developed impairment-related safety information, but they felt that given the anticipated rise in usage in the coming year, Sayle said that a more cannabis-specific focus is required.

"There is a lot of misinformation about this at the general workforce level, that cannabis and alcohol are the same when they are clearly are not," he said. "it’s important that employers get out ahead of this issue."

Sayle believes that a concerted effort on behalf of businesses and organizations will do a great deal to improve the perception and education surrounding cannabis users in the workplace.  

"I think this is going to help bring some clarity around this very complex issue," he said. "Our course will help bridge the gap between now and when those testing parameters get more firmed up."

The program’s modules are designed to be industry-agnostic, meaning this information should apply across the board. Consequently, The Sayle Group is targeting several different fields across the country, including municipalities, First Nations communities, the energy sector, any company that has people working, and going out in the world interfacing the public that could potentially have a safety-sensitive role could benefit.

Initially, workplace safety has focused on people in "safety sensitive" positions, which is defined as any position that could cause incident if there were to be an error. But this has since been broadened to include "decision critical" people. Meaning people who, themselves, may not be in a safety sensitive position physically, but have the ability to make decisions affecting the safety of the people around them.

Currently the program is being used by the Nova Scotia Trucking Association, an endeavor that has seen some success, said Sayle, pointing out that the company’s far reach is helping to expand the Sayle Group’s brand.

"We decided from day one that our course had to be totally neutral on the subject of cannabis use," he said. "We are not against cannabis use, nor are we promoting it. Our focus is solely on workplace safety." 

Impairment, he pointed out, can come out of a variety of things. This includes alcohol, fatigue, and stress as well as cannabis use. Sayle said that he is not so much concerned with the reason for or situation behind the impairment, only that the impairment exists, and must be addressed.

"Personal opinions do not matter when it comes to safety."