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Workplace health and safety conference aims to alleviate substance abuse issues

Day two of Workplace Safety North's inaugural health and safety conference emphasized the impact of substance abuse in the sawmill and forestry industry
Elisha Malette
Elisha Malette, health and safety specialist for Workplace Safety North, speaking at the workplace health and safety conference at the Valhalla Inn on Thursday, May 2, 2019. (Michael Charlebois, tbnewswatch)

THUNDER BAY - In 2017, the Ministry of Labour asked sawmill and forestry workers what issues posed the greatest risk in the workplace.

The answer: substance abuse.

Out of 80 possible answers, the use of everything from marijuana to prescription pills was identified as the greatest struggle for workers.

It’s what sparked the Workplace Safety North and Public Services Health and Safety Association to dedicate a day to the issue at the inaugural Health and Safety Conference.

“When that came out as the #1 area of concern, it was very eye-opening for us, and for the entire industry as well,” said Tom Welton, the director of prevention services and education products for Workplace Safety North.

The independent not-for-profit organization provides workplace health and safety training and services for the mining and forest industries.

On Thursday, workers from the industry including Fort William First Nation’s Resolute Forest Products were on hand to learn about the harms of potential substances, and what services are available to them.

“We in the sawmill and logging industry deal with high-risk positions where a wrong decision can be detrimental or even catastrophic in the workplace.”

In the first-quarter cannabis summary issued by Statistics Canada on Thursday, an estimated 13 per cent of workers nationally said they consumed cannabis before or at work.

“It jives with the high level of concern,” said Welton when asked about the report. “We want to work proactively with the industry. Having good policies and procedures... and training the workers so they’re aware of concerns in relation to substance abuse as well.”

The WSN’s main recommendations include procedure of how to address substance use in the workplace, and having specific criteria that senior staff can implements, and workers understand.

“The ultimate goal is to maintain a safe and healthy workplace for everyone,” Welton said.

Workers who wish to learn more can visit the resource page at Workplace Safety North’s website.

Michael Charlebois

About the Author: Michael Charlebois

Michael Charlebois was born and raised in Thunder Bay, where he attended St. Patrick High School and graduated in 2015. He attends Carleton University in Ottawa where he studies journalism.
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