construction site safety

Marijuana + Construction

What effect will the legalization of marijuana have on construction site personnel dynamics?

To say that this is a controversial issue is an understatement, legalization of Marijuana in Construction will be a hot topic as we all have our own beliefs on this matter. Some are against marijuana being labeled as a drug, and others see it as a slippery slope to a systemic problem. In this article we aim to ruffle some feathers on both sides of the issue in respect to perspective, but also identify what effect legalization will have.

Before we go any further, we strongly believe that any person who is impaired due to the consumption of any substance should be banned from a jobsite, and enforced by law in a similar fashion to impaired driving.

Yes, that was stern… But safety cannot be compromised.

Now we can uncover how that statement can be seen through a number of different prisms. There have been thousands of claims that cannabis and cannabis related derivatives are effective pain killers and many studies that prove this to be true. There have also been reports of other health benefits. Herein lies a massive communication issue of semantics. When we broadly label a substance as “Medical”, we hand over the power of this term to be used inaccurately, but who are we to judge if someone is consuming for their own health. The reality is that the biggest threat to humans, are humans themselves, we can’t help ourselves from making poor decisions. So, if you couple the right to choose and poor decision making, the results can be disastrous and construction is not the place for this. Chronic pain is horrible, many people suffer on a daily basis, not to mention the support of the medical system for chronic pain is somewhat lacking, except for pumping out prescription drugs. Having said this, if a 45yr old superintendent smokes a joint at home before work to calm neck pain and no one on site has any idea, is he going against the rules? To him, “No”, but according to policy, “Yes”, he is in breach.

On the recreational side, smoking pot or vaping it seems to have transcended the status of taboo and entered the arena of common place. The GenY and Millennial generations seem to be much less concerned with any self image projections regarding pot in general. Any reservations that may have been inhibiting the desire to participate are restricted to being more responsible and/or the general sentiment of doing something illegal.

So what will happen when this all goes mainstream? “Legalization” is not really the issue. It is more of a macro message shift to “Legitimization”. The general sentiment regarding Marijuana will be a accepted as alcohol. Question is, would you allow someone on your job site who has had a shot of hard liquor. Hard liquor is a fair comparison due to the fact that 1 or 2 beers may not effect a 250lb male. The answer to the prior question is no, you would not accept anyone on site who has consumed anything which may compromise his/her ability to work safely.

Many people draw parallels between marijuana and alcohol as one in the same, when this is much too hard to qualify and is a polarizing topic. Some generalize that most people who “smoke up” are doing it for its effect, not for its taste, where as with craft beer or wine for instance, the reasons for having “just one”, are mild endorphins, taste, and perhaps refreshment. However, the marijuana industry is blossoming with different flavours and tastes that are akin to the many varietals of wine. So, some would argue that alcohol and Marijuana is exactly the same and that there is simply a stigma around it. Regardless of your view on alcohol or cannabis, the reality is that in order to be truly safe, you have to be sharp and have your wits about you, otherwise you are endangering yourself and those around you. Legalization/legitimization of this substance is destined to create friction between employers and employees in any industry, let alone construction.

The legalization transition experience may be akin to when TV loosened up its rules on mild profanity, tv scripts started to include “bitch” just to be edgy. There will be similar situations where an employee will have a few tokes in plain sight, just to be confronted, so that they respond with “it’s legal now, besides, I can’t high off a couple of hits”. 

So what are you as an employer supposed to do, and what is the opportunity here? Well, the cream will always float to the top, in that the employees who “get it” and take this issue seriously and professionally will move to the upper ranks within the top companies in their respective field. The others will need to be managed by a series of policies and measures. Complicity must be taken into consideration. For example if John knows that Mike had got high at lunch, he is complicit based on his knowledge of a breach in policy/law. Again, this is similar to letting your friend drive while drunk. Having clear policies in place is a must if legalization is imminent in your jurisdiction. The following is a company campaign example that you can use.

Legalized does NOT mean Legitimized” Or “Consumption & Possession, Recreational Marijuana PROHIBITED, Within 500m”.

This dialogue between employer and employee must begin at some point to “nip this in the bud” before this turns into a silent conflict that creeps its way into an accident on site. There are policies for heavy equipment operators, but this should be a unilateral policy for all site personnel. For the General Contractor, Sub-trades must also comply with the site rules. This can be an opportunity to set strong forward facing signage and bulletins that position the company as progressive, forward thinking, and responsible.

The reality is that construction is a tough adversarial business with a huge mix of personalities and complicated relationships, all of whom have to be managed. Unfortunately this new right of passage for cannabis simply cannot creep into construction in the same velocity it will move into other industries, for the risk is just too “high” ( bad pun 🙂 ).

About writer

As the founder of SiteMax Systems, James has developed and deployed safety messaging and strategy systems with thousands of users. In addition to this practical experience in this field, James spent many years creating employer brand strategies for blue chip companies.

SiteMax offers a robust construction productivity system used by GC’s and Subs to optimize their workflows which includes time keeping functionalities.

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