Off-Duty Weed Use Not a Risk Factor for Work Injury

Stephen Andrews
10 Aug 2023

A new study finds no correlation between off-duty consumption of cannabis and injuries at work. Users who smoke outside the job do not face an increased risk of experiencing workplace injuries compared to those who don’t use cannabis at all. The study questions the legitimacy of zero-tolerance employment policies.

Studying the link between cannabis use and workplace impairment has been a subject of several research efforts so far. In the latest attempt, Canadian researchers followed 2,745 workers in safety-sensitive and non-safety-sensitive positions over a two-year period. Their focus of analysis was the 11.3 percent of Canadian workers who experienced a workplace injury during that time period. 

“Compared to no past-year cannabis use, there was no difference in workplace injury risk for non-workplace cannabis use,” the researchers noted. 

Workplace Cannabis Use Remains a Risk Factor for Injury

The study appears to give the all-clear for those who consume cannabis outside work. However, those who reach out to cannabis during work hours are nearly twice as likely to be involved in an incident compared to off-duty users and non-users. 

Among all participants, 10.2 percent of those who were injured on the job were in the non-user category, 11.14 percent of those who were hurt were off-duty users, and 20.13 percent reported cannabis use either two hours before or while at work. 

“Compared to no past-year use, the risk of experiencing a workplace injury was 1.97 times higher among workers reporting workplace use,” the study notes. “No statistically elevated association was seen for non-workplace use.” 

The study authors conclude that “workplace cannabis use, not use outside of work, is a risk factor for workplace injuries.” 

In the safety-sensitive workers category, the injury rates stood at 20.14 percent among non-users, 23.3 percent for off-duty consumers and 31.35 percent for those who consumed cannabis while working. In the non-safety-sensitive category, it was 4.27 percent of non-users, 4.19 percent for off-duty users and 12.3 percent for those who used it on the job. 

The authors say that the results of this study make it clearer on the risks of injury related to cannabis use at the workplace. They emphasize that previous research has been limited by not accounting the timing of consumption in relation to the injuries at the job. 

“When thinking about the potential occupational safety impacts of a worker’s cannabis use,” the authors write, “it is important to consider when that use is taking place.” The use of cannabis away from work would not be problematic, they say. It’s when cannabis use is in close time proximity to work hours that increases the risk for earning an injury.  

It doesn’t matter so much if the job is in the safety-sensitive category or not. Simply, workplace cannabis use poses a potential risk of getting hurt while performing the job duties.

The study does not aim to diminish worries among employers that marijuana use could cause impairment and that it could reflect on performance, the authors continue. Nevertheless, they describe the zero-tolerance policies that prohibit marijuana also outside work as “overly broad” and that having such policies in place is “incompatible” with the study’s result.  

The authors call on more nuanced approaches for workplace policies, especially now that there is an increasingly legalized environment. For example, that could include minimum waiting hours after cannabis consumption when impairment is suspected. 

In previous studies, cannabis legalization has been associated with increase in workforce productivity and decrease in workplace injuries. Legal medical cannabis has also been correlated to fewer workers’ compensation claims that were less costly on average. 

The study was carried out by researchers at the University of Toronto, University at Buffalo and Toronto Rehabilitation Institute. The findings were published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health

Read more related news on Soft Secrets:

- Can You Roll After Work? 

- New York's Marijuana Guide for the Workplace

- Weed Rules Discourage Young People from Applying to Government Jobs

Stephen Andrews