Marijuana’s Cost to Employers

With the adoption of more state laws to legalize marijuana, employers will face challenges to protect their employees from injury and to comply with federal requirements to maintain a drug-free workplace.

Employers also face potentially costly litigation as case law surrounding legal marijuana develops, according to the Quest Diagnostics whitepaper “What Will ‘Legal’ Marijuana Cost Employers?”


Quest reports that medical marijuana legalization brought forth a new phenomenon: the production of marijuana-infused foods and gadgets, which presents a special problem for employers. Today, nearly half of marijuana users in states where it is legal consume marijuana by eating it rather than smoking it. In addition, vape pens, which are like e-cigarettes but contain capsules of concentrated marijuana oils, leave no marijuana smell and are impossible to tell apart from e-cigarettes. These two modes of consumption will make it more difficult, if not impossible, for employers to tell when employees are using marijuana on the job.

As marijuana use increases, so will workplace injuries, accidents, mistakes, and employee illnesses, escalating the costs of companies’ liability, workers’ compensation and health insurance.

Questions companies should ask include:

  • Will employers have to accommodate marijuana use in their workplaces? A closely watched case. Before the Colorado Supreme Court will establish, at least in Colorado, whether employees can use marijuana off the clock even if they may be impaired the next day.
  • Must employers pay for employees’ medical marijuana if they are injured on the job? By allowing a court of appeals decision to stand, the New Mexico Supreme Court finds that the answer is yes.
  • Must employers pay unemployment compensation to employees fired for failing a marijuana drug test?
  • What does increased adolescent marijuana use portend for the future workforce? Research shows that compared to nonusers, teens who smoke marijuana on weekends over a two-year period are six times more likely to drop out of high school, three times less likely to enter college, and four times less likely to earn a college degree?
  • How can employers meet federal requirements to maintain a drug-free workplace if states require proof of impairment rather than the presence of marijuana in the body when no level of impairment has been scientifically established and no noninvasive test to denote impairment has been developed?
  • If courts hold that drug testing is no longer a valid indicator of impairment, how can employers whose businesses involve driving or other safety-sensitive positions protect their workers and the public from injuries and deaths cause by stoned drivers?
  • What if courts hold that failing a pre-employment drug test is no longer a valid reason to deny employment to applicants?

There are, however, steps employers can take to protect themselves:

1) Stay up-to-date with the changing legal landscape and adjust workplace policies accordingly.

2) Remember that marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

3) Join other employers to monitor state legislation and take action with legislators to ensure workplace protections are included in any marijuana laws.

4) Educate your workforce about the dangers marijuana poses to children, families and the workplace.

5) Challenge the notion that marijuana is medicine, or risk paying for it in your health insurance program. No marijuana medicines being sold in states that legalized them have been approved by FDA as pure, safe, or effective. Doctors cannot prescribe them and pharmacies cannot sell them.

Frigid Weather Heightens Ice Hazards

Freezing weather now sweeping across much of the U.S. brings a greater risk of ice storms and underlines the need for careful planning and heightened safety measures.

In fact, it does not take much ice to create disaster conditions. Even a thin coat of ice can create dangerous conditions on roads. Add strong winds and you have a recipe for downed trees and power lines, bringing outages that can last for days.

According to The Weather Channel:

  • Ice can increase the weight of branches by 30 times.
  • A 1/2-inch accumulation on power lines can add 500 pounds of extra weight.
  • An ice storm in 2009 centered from northern Arkansas to the Ohio Valley knocked out power to 1.3 million.
  • In 1998, an ice storm in northern New York and northern New England damaged millions of trees and caused $1.4 billion in damage. Accumulations were as much as three inches thick.

The Weather Channel also categorizes ice storms as nuisance, disruptive or crippling. A nuisance event is usually one of less than a 1/4 inch of ice. While these lighter accumulations are considered a nuisance, travel can still be extremely dangerous. A disruptive ice storm typically has 1/4 to 1/2 inch of ice accumulation, with ice starting to damage trees and power lines. Crippling ice storms, which have widespread accumulations of more than 1/2 inch, can cause severe tree damage resulting in power outages. The most devastating storms contain ice accumulation of an inch or more.

A special hazard to drivers is black ice, caused when moisture in the air freezes when it comes in contact with a much colder roadway, or when a sudden drop in temperature causes an already wet roadway to quickly freeze.

Fleet group ARI cautions against driving on black ice, which it said is most commonly found on overpasses and on roads that wind around bodies of water such as lakes and rivers.

ARI offers these tips for drivers:

  1. Drive slowly – The best way to avoid skidding out of control is to operate your vehicle at a slower speed. A slower speed will even give you more time to react to the effects of black ice
  2. Don’t slam the brakes – While it may be a natural instinct to slam on your brakes, this will only cause your car to lose control and slide even more. Tap the brake pedal lightly instead of pushing down hard on it.
  3. Maintain a safe following distance – In situations like this, you need to extend you following distance to ensure you will have ample time to react to the motorist ahead especially if they begin to lose control.
  4. Look for trouble spots ahead – If you have an idea that there may be black ice ahead (if you see cars ahead of you sliding, for example), downshift to a lower gear before you come onto the black ice. The lower gear will force you to drive more slowly and it will give you better control of your car.
  5. As soon as your car begins to slide on black ice, take your foot off the gas pedal – In fact, the last thing you want to do is give your vehicle more gas. It is very important to slow down when you are driving on black ice or in any other winter road conditions.

Staying Safe at the World Cup

Brazil is steadily moving into the international spotlight as it prepares to host the World Cup, which begins next week on June 12, and the Olympics in 2016, both of which are forecasted to showcase its status as an emerging economic power. On the other hand, these events are also likely to amplify security risks in the country.

The primary risk for travelers during the World Cup is the rise of common crime in host cities. Often times, foreigners are perceived as wealthier and thus make attractive targets for pickpockets and armed robbers as well as express and traditional kidnappers. Risk managers should be aware that preparing travelers for these crimes is the best mitigation strategy.

Beyond crime, civil unrest is also a threat. Many groups already have plans in place to protest; the magnitude of their demonstrations and effectiveness of the government’s response are factors that are unpredictable. Widespread rallies may result in localized and violent clashes with police, especially in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, where they may be larger and more frequent.

These demonstrations can also routinely halt traffic, which can force an ambulance to take an hour to reach a hospital that may only be 20 minutes away. Risk managers are advised to plan an alternative route, especially in a medical crisis.

The Proactive Risk Manager
Due diligence and intelligence are every risk manager’s responsibility, but conveying this information to travelers is critical. This includes offering pre-trip training which teaches travelers how to be self-aware, and addresses visa requirements, language and cultural information, and any relevant medical and security threats. Simultaneously, all risks, mitigation strategies and contingency plans should be clearly communicated to relevant departments.

During trips to and within Brazil, risk managers should be aware of any itinerary delays and security incidents. Knowing where travelers are at all times is vital; traveler tracking services, often offered by assistance providers, can help enormously in case of an emergency.

Following Best Practices
As we approach the World Cup, travelers and risk managers should expect a heightened security presence of police and other law enforcement officials, especially in all 12 host cities. That said, it is easy to fall into a false sense of security. Using common sense safety precautions can help to mitigate risks and ensure peace of mind:

  • Avoid exposing flashy jewelry or high-price items such as cell phones, laptops, cameras, etc.
  • Always carry extra medications with you.
  • Choose an indoor ATM so you don’t fall prey to express kidnappers or muggers.
  • Carry only a small amount of cash with you. Leave passport and credit cards in your hotel’s safe.
  • Do not walk alone at night. It is best to travel in groups.
  • Avoid public transportation. Hotels can assist in hailing “radio taxis” (taxis you call ahead of time to arrange a pick-up rather than cabs on the street).
  • Take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before your travel.
  • Remember the local equivalent to “911″ is divided up into three services: 190 – Policia (Police), 192- Ambulancia (Ambulance), and 193- Bombeiros (Fire).
  • Carry the number of the nearest English speaking hospital and an emergency contact on you.

For more on staying safe at the World Cup, read our cover story in this month’s issue of Risk Management.

Protecting Employees from Dangerous Chemicals

Millions of workers in a number of industries are exposed to chemicals every day. While many of these chemicals may be harmful, only a small number are regulated in the workplace.

Because of this, employees suffer more than 190,000 illnesses and 50,000 deaths annually—all related to chemical exposures. Workplace chemical exposures have been linked to cancers as well as lung, kidney, skin, heart, stomach, brain, nerve and reproductive diseases, according to the United States Department of Labor.

An effective system for managing chemicals in the workplace is important. Ideally, a program would go beyond basic Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) standards for compliance and would attempt to reduce or eliminate chemical hazards at the source through informed substitution.

An online toolkit, provided by OSHA, can help businesses improve the safety of their workers by eliminating or reducing hazardous chemicals. Other benefits are also created, including:

  • Cost Savings—reduced expenses and future risks.
  • Efficiency—improved performance.
  • Industry Leadership—innovation helps a company stay competitive.
  • Corporate Stewardship—Advancing socially responsible practices.

Considering safer alternatives to hazardous chemicals is not new, but a good program allows employers, workers and decision-makers to identify solutions rather than continuing to focus on the problem. This approach can also reduce costs and keep businesses competitive. On the other hand, continuing to assess the problem has no economic benefit, according to OSHA.

“Informed substitution,” or replacing hazardous substances with safer alternatives, is the goal of a solutions-oriented approach to chemical management, OSHA said. It involves identifying alternatives and evaluating safety hazards, any potential trade-offs, and their technical and economic feasibility. A “safer alternative” is an option that is less hazardous for workers than the existing method or solution used. This could mean choosing not to continue an activity altogether. It also might include using chemical substitutes, products or process redesigns that eliminate the need for specific hazardous chemicals.

Seven Step Process

To help with the process, OSHA has developed a seven-step procedure to give employers and workers the information and guidance needed for informed substitution in the workplace.

In step 1, “engage,” for example, OSHA offers these considerations for developing a plan:

Key Questions

  • How will workers be involved in the team and throughout the planning process?
  • Who should be involved in developing the work plan and setting goals for transitioning to safer chemicals—managers, supply chain partners, customers, marketers, health and safety committee members, occupational health nurse or physician, occupational health consultant?
  • What goals should be included in the plan? Consider specific goals such as eliminate carcinogens, reduce the use of hazardous chemicals by a certain percentage in a set number of years, substitute chemicals of concern from government or sector lists, etc.
  • What policies, tasks, responsibilities, deadlines should be included in the plan?
  • What particular drivers should you be aware of in developing the plan (existing or new laws, consumer pressures, new science)?
  • How will external stakeholders be involved?

To read more and access OSHA’s seven-step plan and toolkit go to: