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The Constitutional Court recently decriminalised the personal use of cannabis. The Master Builders Association of the Western Cape (MBAWC) recently held a workshop to unpack the implications of decriminalisation in terms of occupational health and safety, with the aim of protecting construction industry employers and employees.

Over the past few years, the Western Cape has consistently had a higher accident frequency rate than other regions in the country. However the average cost of an accident is lower and these accidents appear to be less serious.

Deon Bester, Occupational Health and Safety Manager, MBAWC, explained that, based on anecdotal evidence, occupational health and safety professionals believe these statistics could be attributed to the inordinately high use of cannabis, together with other substances, in this part of the country.

Implementing intoxication policies

When it comes to drafting a drug and alcohol policy, Rudelle van der Merwe, Occupational Hygienist at Safenet Africa, explained that this should be done in consultation with a union or employee representative. Once completed, the policy must be approved by all parties.

The policy should include a list of prohibited substances and why they are prohibited. It should also state the procedure to be followed if an employee is suspected of being intoxicated; how to determine if someone is under the influence; methods and frequency of testing; action to be followed in the case of positive test results; and acceptable limits of alcohol and drugs found in tests.

“While most drug and alcohol policies are ‘zero tolerance’, this does not mean that tests must have zero concentration. In order for people to still be able to enjoy their constitutional right to use cannabis, I recommend setting the allowable threshold levels for detection in the drug and alcohol policy low enough so that the person is not impaired or intoxicated, whilst still enabling them to use the substance should they wish,” said Professor Tim Laurens, Senior Lecturer at the University of Pretoria.

A word of caution

Counselling Psychologist and Addiction Care Specialist Chris Prins cautioned that cannabis use not only poses a serious risk for accidents and injuries, but also makes the user more prone to health problems and emotional instability. a

He added that, these days, cannabis has greater addiction potential due to higher concentrations of THC, the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis. “In the 1960s, the THC content was generally between 1% and 2%. Now, the THC content can be as high as 20%.”

Bester concluded with this remark: “The safety and futures of our employees hinge on having a drug and alcohol policy in place and conducting testing in a way that is ethical, legal and scientific.”

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