Recent amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act [OHSA], which we discussed previously, will come into force beginning on June 1, 2023 and require many employers to have naloxone kits available in Ontario workplaces, along with employees trained to administer the kits, if certain circumstances apply. Naloxone kits can be administered to temporarily reverse the effects of opioid overdoses on individuals. Commonly circulated opioids include drugs such as morphine, heroin, fentanyl and codeine. For a limited time, employers can receive free naloxone training for up to two employees per workplace and one free nasal spray naloxone kit per workplace.
Who is Required to Provide a Naloxone Kit?
Employers who are required to provide naloxone in their workplace must maintain at least one naloxone kit in that workplace where they become aware, or ought reasonably to be aware, that there is a risk of an opioid overdose by one of the employer’s workers in the employer’s workplace. The government has provided guidance regarding how employers may assess whether this risk exists. Below, we have set out some of the key considerations for employers to determine whether this requirement applies to them.
The Risk of an Opioid Overdose
There are a multitude of ways in which an employer can become aware of the risk of a worker opioid overdose, which may include employer observation of opioid usage or an overdose, discovery of worker opioid use through a workplace investigation or voluntary disclosure, or the risk being brought to the attention of the employer through health and safety committees and representatives, union representatives, or other human resources staff.
Alternatively, if an employer is aware that a worker’s opioid usage is medically prescribed, it is unlikely that fact by itself would constitute a risk of a worker opioid overdose, as usage of opioids prescribed by a medical practitioner is under the practitioner’s medical supervision.
The Risk of an Opioid Overdose in the Workplace
The OHSA requirements also only apply if the risk of a worker opioid overdose occurs while in the workplace. If there is no apparent risk of an overdose in the workplace, but rather the risk only related to a potential overdose outside of the workplace, the employer does not have to provide a naloxone kit in the workplace as required by the OHSA.
The Risk of Overdose to a Worker
Finally, the requirements only apply if the risk of an opioid overdose is from a worker who performs work for the employer. Where there is a worker in a workplace shared by multiple employers, only the employer who the worker performs work for would be required to provide a naloxone kit. Similarly, these new OHSA obligations do not require naloxone kits to be maintained by employers where there is a risk of an overdose by non-workers, such as clients or patients of the employer.
Naloxone Kit Requirements
Where an employer is required to provide naloxone in their workplace, the employer must ensure there is a responsible worker who is trained to recognize an opioid overdose and to safely administer the naloxone kit working in the vicinity of the kit. There are also additional requirements for storing naloxone kits, which include ensuring the kits are in good condition and stored at room temperature protected from light.
Takeaways for Employers
Employers are advised to comply with these new requirements under the OHSA coming into effect later this year, including understanding when they will be required to provide naloxone in the workplace and the regulations around administering the kit. Employers should seek to take advantage of the resources offered by Ontario including free training for employees and one free naloxone kit, where employers aim to comply with the requirements.
Employers should keep in mind that they are not permitted to disclose more personal information than is reasonably necessary to comply with the OHSA amendments for naloxone kits.
While an employer may meet the new requirements by providing a naloxone kit when an employer becomes aware of the risk of a worker opioid overdose, they will often owe a broader duty to accommodate employees who the employer believes may have a drug addiction under the Ontario Human Rights Code [Code]. Employers should consider that they may still be required to fulfill their obligation to inquire and obtain all relevant information regarding the employee’s disability-related limitations under the Code and take appropriate steps to accommodate.