High em­ploy­ees mean higher costs when mar­i­juana le­gal­ized, oil and gas CEOs warn

Cape Breton Post - - Business - BY DAN HEAL­ING

Oil­patch CEOs fear their costs will rise when the fed­eral gov­ern­ment passes re­cently in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion to le­gal­ize re­cre­ational mar­i­juana.

The is­sue of drug use is closely watched in the in­dus­try, where work­ers tend to be young and haz­ards in­clude long com­mutes to and from re­mote drilling sites, wells that pro­duce poi­sonous or ex­plo­sive gas and ex­po­sure to heavy ma­chin­ery. Many oil and gas com­pa­nies have strict bans on al­co­hol and drugs at work.

Pre­ci­sion Drilling CEO Kevin Neveu, whose Cal­gary-based firm op­er­ates in both Canada and the United States, says his op­po­si­tion to le­gal­iza­tion is sup­ported by his com­pany’s ex­pe­ri­ences in Colorado af­ter that state le­gal­ized the drug in 2014.

He said costs there have in­creased for em­ploy­ees who need drug coun­selling or for those who fail drug tests and must be sent home un­der Pre­ci­sion’s “zero tol­er­ance’’ drug and al­co­hol pol­icy.

And it’s more dif­fi­cult to find new re­cruits, typ­i­cally young men, who can pass pre-em­ploy­ment drug tests, he said.

“We have cer­tainly failed more peo­ple in Colorado (for drug use) af­ter le­gal­iza­tion than we did be­fore,’’ he said, though he was un­able to give spe­cific num­bers. “There’s a link, there’s a cause. Even dur­ing the re­cruit­ment phase where we warn them we’ll do a test, a sur­pris­ing num­ber still test pos­i­tive.’’

Canada’s Lib­eral gov­ern­ment cam­paigned on a prom­ise to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana for re­cre­ational use, ar­gu­ing pro­hi­bi­tion does not pre­vent young peo­ple from us­ing the drug. It also said too many Cana­di­ans end up with crim­i­nal records for pos­sess­ing small amounts and le­gal­iza­tion would help re­move the crim­i­nal el­e­ment linked to the drug.

But Jeff Tonken, CEO of Cal­gary-based nat­u­ral gas pro­ducer Birch­cliff En­ergy (TSX: BIR), agreed with Neveu that em­ployee costs will rise if the gov­ern­ment suc­ceeds in le­gal­iz­ing re­cre­ational pot by July 1, 2018.

“It’s go­ing to be more costly for us to po­lice the safety of our peo­ple,’’ he said.

He said work­ers sign an agree­ment when hired giv­ing per­mis­sion for ran­dom tests for drugs and al­co­hol con­sump­tion.

If some­one fails a test, they must leave the job site, he said, but the com­pany may still be re­spon­si­ble for pay­ing for sub­stance abuse treat­ment or cov­er­ing a leave of ab­sence.

Sure Hire Inc., an Ed­mon­ton­based drug test­ing com­pany with branches across Canada, charges be­tween $85 and $135 for a 12-panel point of col­lec­tion test or a saliva drug test. A hair drug test costs $275 to $325, but costs rise if the sam­ple is “non-neg­a­tive’’ be­cause it must then be sent to a lab for con­fir­ma­tion. Usu­ally, the com­pany pays.

“This is a re­ally good time for com­pa­nies to re­view their in­ter­nal poli­cies and pro­ce­dures,’’ said Ja­son Sheehy, Sure Hire’s di­rec­tor of oc­cu­pa­tional health ser­vices.

He pointed out that med­i­cal mar­i­juana has been avail­able in Canada since 2001, but there still is no test to de­ter­mine if some­one is im­paired by any drug other than al­co­hol — tests can only show that some­one has con­sumed the drug at some point.

Nor can the test show when the drug was taken, he said. For ex­am­ple, an in­fre­quent mar­i­juana user’s urine sam­ple might test pos­i­tive for five to 10 days af­ter mar­i­juana use, but a heavy user will show pos­i­tive for up to 30 days.

En­form, an oil and gas in­dus­try train­ing and safety or­ga­ni­za­tion, said in a re­cent state­ment that the fed­eral leg­is­la­tion fails to ad­dress the need to do fur­ther re­search on mar­i­juana im­pair­ment test­ing tech­nolo­gies, nor did it cover how labour and work­place leg­is­la­tion can be har­mo­nized from province to province.

“There is well-doc­u­mented re­search to demon­strate cog­ni­tive im­pair­ments that can last for more than 24 hours and up to 20 days for chronic mar­i­juana use,’’ said En­form CEO Cameron MacGil­livray, call­ing for a le­gal pro­hi­bi­tion on mar­i­juana in or near the work­place.

Matt Pas­cuzzo, spokesman for fed­eral Em­ploy­ment Min­is­ter Patty Ha­jdu, said the gov­ern­ment will en­sure Cana­di­ans’ health and safety are pro­tected as it works with prov­inces and ter­ri­to­ries on mea­sures ad­dress­ing im­pair­ment at work.

Mark Salkeld, pres­i­dent of the Pe­tro­leum Ser­vices As­so­ci­a­tion of Canada, said freer ac­cess to mar­i­juana is more likely to cause prob­lems in his in­dus­try than in many oth­ers be­cause of its haz­ards.

“You know, you don’t want guys stoned in those en­vi­ron­ments. Or even hun­gover,’’ he said.

CP PHOTO

A tech­ni­cian tests a sam­ple at SureHire, an Ed­mon­ton-based drug test­ing com­pany with branches across Canada, in Cal­gary, Alta., Wed­nes­day, April 26.

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