Employers Must Address Occupational Risks of Prescribed Opioids and Medical Marijuana

Speaker Adele Abrams, J.D., CMSP, emphasizes that the overlaps between OSHA, ADA, and accommodating employee use of medical marijuana or prescribed opioids are difficult to navigate.

The Monday morning session "The New 'Treacherous Triangle': OSHA, ADA and Medical Marijuana" at Safety 2018 in San Antonio discussed the need for safety and HR professionals to address occupational risks arising from workers who use prescribed opioids or medical marijuana. Speaker Adele Abrams, J.D., CMSP, talked about the responsibilities and liabilities these situations can pose for employers.

Only about half of employer policies appropriately address opioid use and medical marijuana use, Abrams said. More specificity is needed in these policies.

Medical marijuana has been legalized in 29 states and the District of Columbia. Abrams stressed that employers must familiarize themselves with the laws of any jurisdiction in which they employ workers.

With prescribed opiates, she said, employers must look at many factors from a workplace safety perspective, including whether the injury that requires the prescription was incurred on or off the job, and whether the employee's condition is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In developing substance abuse prevention programs in the workplace, there are five elements required: a written policy, supervisor training, employee education, employee assistance, and drug and alcohol testing. Employers should be clear about which drugs are being for and at what limits, what the consequences of a positive test are, and how employers will provide assistance to employees who need help.

Balancing reasonable accommodations under the ADA with workplace safety, drug testing, and the requirements of OSHA or MSHA can be difficult, Abrams said. As a starting point, she emphasized posting a written policy on drug use, training supervisors appropriately, and documenting efforts to handle employee use of prescribed opioids or medical marijuana.

She also recommended consulting with workers who report they're taking certain medications and removing them from safety sensitive positions if necessary, while considering reasonable accommodation if possible. Ultimately, Abrams said, if a worker is found to intoxicated on the job, employers should handle it discreetly and responsibly.

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