Newly-released Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission paper warns ‘Safety Consequences… are quite severe”

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The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission released Discussion Paper DIS-12-03, Fitness for Duty: Proposals for Strengthening Alcohol and Drug Policy, Programs and Testing [HTML] [PDF] , which drew immediate knee-jerk criticism from some of the Canadian Nuclear Industry. 

Fitness for duty is defined as a condition in which workers are physically, physiologically, and psychologically/mentally capable of performing the tasks of their assigned jobs within the required standards of safety, attendance, quality, efficiency and behavior.

The CNSC proposal warns that extensive drug and alcohol testing is required, and should be federally overseen at Canada’s nuclear power plants.

In moving forward, the CNSC proposes to build upon the foundation of current requirements and guidance for FFD using a three-pronged strategy.

  1. establish an appropriate policy framework
  2. create supportive programs
  3. introduce effective biochemical substance testing

Licensees would be required to ensure that the use of alcohol and drugs is specifically addressed in supervisory awareness programs.

If a licensee has reason to believe that a worker with unescorted access is unfit for duty or is in violation of the alcohol and drug policy, the licensee would be required to investigate.

Licensees would be required to develop and implement measures to investigate suspected workers, including unfit-for-duty investigations, searches, and escort procedures.

Current Alcohol and Drug regulations in Canadian Fitness-For-Duty programs

Fitness for duty is a broad topic that touches on occupational health, physical and mental ability, the use of potentially physio- and psycho-active substances, and occupational fitness.

Current standards in Canada requires nuclear power plant licensees to maintain “fitness-for-duty” programs to ensure workers do not “have a physical or a mental limitation that would make the person incapable of performing the duties of the applicable position.”

Human performance is a key contributor to nuclear power plant safety.  There are no explicit alcohol or drug testing requirements in current policies.  Most fit-for-duty programs are designed to aid supervisors to watch for emotional and physical stresses among staff.

Depending on the risks associated with a position, these may include medical evaluations, physiological evaluations, mental or psychological evaluations, biochemical or substance testing, occupational or physical fitness, and behavioral or performance evaluations.

These evaluations are conducted in various circumstances, including pre-placement, periodic, return-to-work, employee health assistance program, and continuing disability.

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