A recent incident in which three workers on the Eglinton Crosstown LRT project in Toronto were allegedly seen smoking marijuana won’t be the last time it happens on a construction worksite, warns an industry stakeholder.
With cannabis set to be legalized this summer, the chances are increasing it will cause a jobsite fatality, claimed Clive Thurston, president of the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA).
He expressed frustration that construction employers have not been given more tools to deal with what is expected to be a growing problem, increased marijuana used on jobsites. The OGCA has advocated for the right to randomly test workers and for workers to be assigned legal responsibility to not be impaired on a jobsite but so far, said Thurston, their pleas have been ignored by the government.
“It appears to us that very clearly the bureaucrats and the politicians seem more interested in announcing where the stores are going to be rather than thinking about the health and safety impact this will have on our industry and all industries,” said Thurston.
“There is going to be an incident and it will likely kill somebody.”
Spokespersons for both Crosslinx Transit Solutions, the construction consortium undertaking the Eglinton build, and Metrolinx, the owner of the project, said there was an immediate stand-down as supervisors addressed the complaint, which was phoned in by a neighbour. After the stand-down and a meeting, workers were sent home.
Kristin Jenkins of Crosslinx and Anne Marie Aikins of Metrolinx said using marijuana on their projects is strictly prohibited and a violation of company fit-for-duty policies.
“Doing drugs or drinking on the job is completely unacceptable and a very serious violation of Crosslinx’s fit-for-duty and safety policies,” said Jenkins in a statement.
“We have zero tolerance for this type of behaviour and the penalty is immediate termination.”
Aikins wrote, “Workers were brought together, told this is unacceptable and a violation of our fit-for-duty policy, and the violation has very serious consequences. The fit-for-duty policy was then reviewed in detail with all 25 workers onsite. Their shift ended at 2 p.m. so no one went back to work after the stand-down.
“We have zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol consumption and it will not be tolerated.”
The incident occurred April 11. A resident near a tunnel site just east of Bayview Avenue alleged she saw three workers in Crosslinx gear smoking marijuana in front of her house around 8 a.m. and then again around noon.
Jenkins said Crosslinx now has more surveillance on the site with additional security, and breaks must now take place onsite. An investigation is continuing and action will be taken once it is concluded, she said.
Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, a constructor has a duty to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect the health and safety of a worker, explained a Ministry of Labour statement. That includes preventing workers from doing work they are unable or unfit to do safely, regardless of the cause.
Thurston said the OGCA wrote to the provincial government last August discussing policies in relation to the federal legalization of marijuana and suggested there should be additional responsibilities for workers not to show up for work under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
“Right now there is no duty imposed on workers and it is only on employers,” he said. “Our only defence at the moment is to have extensive fit-for-duty policies.
“We have to get more and more careful about what we do and get more rules to protect ourselves, because if anyone gets hurt or god forbid injured on our site, regardless of what the facts are, we always get blamed.”
The OGCA has instituted information programs for its members over the last year, working with experts who hold webinars, and the OGCA is updating its fit-for-work policies. On April 13, two days after the Eglinton incident, the OGCA board unanimously called for the government to permit random drug testing in the construction sector.
Currently, Thurston said, drug testing of employees is only permitted in workplaces such as Toronto’s TTC, where the government has acknowledged there is a danger to the public.
“Really, there is no public risk at our sites?” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Jenkins noted with the legalization of marijuana, Crosslinx is launching an education campaign to ensure all Crosslinx employees understand the fit-for-duty policy.
“We are now accelerating the launch in light of last week’s incident,” she said.