As of June 1, 2023, employers in Ontario must provide naloxone in the workplace provided that the workplace meets the criteria, which are discussed below. This requirement arises from a recent amendment to the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”) and is in response to an epidemic of preventable opioid overdose deaths in Ontario.
The Ontario Minister of Labour, Monte McNaughton, put the circumstances in stark terms:
“Ontario is in the middle of an opioid epidemic, and every one of these deaths is preventable […] from worksites to nightclubs, requiring naloxone kits in at-risk businesses will help us increase awareness for opioid addiction, reduce the stigma, and save lives.”
What is naloxone?
Naloxone is a medication that can temporarily reverse an opioid overdose allowing additional time for medical services to arrive with effective intervention. As such it is not a cure for an overdose, but rather a tool to use where an opioid overdose is occurring. It can be administered via injection or given as a nasal spray. A key factor of naloxone is that it is generally safe for everyone, other than individuals with a naloxone allergy, meaning that even if a cause of a person’s unconsciousness is unclear, giving them naloxone is not likely to harm them and may save them if the unconsciousness is a result of an opioid overdose.
Does the requirement apply to your workplace?
The OHSA requires employers to have naloxone available in the workplace where the employer is aware or ought reasonable to be aware that the following applies:
- There is a risk of a worker opioid overdose.
- There is a risk that the worker overdoses while in a workplace where they perform work for the employer.
- The risk is posed by a worker who performs work for the employer.
According to the OHSA all the above factors must be present for the obligation to follow. Having just one of the factors present means that the employer does not need to comply with the requirement to have naloxone available.
Factor 1: Risk of Worker Opioid Overdose
The Ministry of Labour provides some examples of what could be alert the employer to the existence of a risk of a worker opioid overdose, namely:
- A worker opioid overdose may have already occurred in the workplace.
- A worker who uses opioids may voluntarily disclose this risk to their employer.
- An employer may observe opioid use among workers in their workplace or discover that opioid use is occurring in their workplace during a workplace investigation.
- An employer may find discarded opioid paraphernalia, such as used needles, in their workplace.
- The joint health and safety committee (JHSC), health and safety representative (HSR), a union representative, human resources (HR) staff, and/or someone else in the workplace may bring this risk to the employer’s attention.
Basically, where the employer sees or becomes aware of opioid use in the workplace, then there is a likelihood that the obligation to provide naloxone becomes a requirement for that employer. There are a variety of channels that this knowledge can come to the employer, as listed above.
Note that opioid use by non-workers such as clients, customers, or site visitors does not create an obligation to provide naloxone.
Factor 2: Risk of Overdose in the Workplace
The risk must be an occurrence of overdose in the workplace. Opioid use outside of the workplace does not lead to the requirement to provide naloxone. If the employer becomes aware that an employee used opioids on a vacation, for example, that by itself does not create a requirement to provide naloxone. Instead, there must be an actual risk of overdose at work.
Factor 3: Risk Posed by a Worker Performing Work for the Employer
If your company is on a complex worksite with multiple other companies involved in construction or other work, the requirement does not flow to workers who do not perform work for your company. Each employer is responsible for their own employees. The risk factors must be considered individually and each company that meets the above criteria is required to have naloxone available for their employees.
Number of Naloxone Kits Required
Each workplace must provide one naloxone kit where the requirement applies. The OHSA does not require more than one kit, but the OHSA does contain a requirement that employers take “every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker” meaning that if the risk is sufficient to require it, employers should consider having several kits on site.
Note that where an employer operates more than one workplace, for example multiple stores or locations, the requirement to provide any naloxone kit is governed by workplace. Therefore, if the risk exists in only one location, only that location needs to provide a kit.
Employers required to provide naloxone are required to have that kit within the vicinity of a worker who has received the required training. Training requirements for a worker must allow that worker to recognize an opioid overdose, administer naloxone, and be aware of hazards relating to the administration of naloxone.
Employers can provide the training themselves or can use an external training provider. Training providers are plentiful in Ontario, and one free option is the Canadian Red Cross which provides a 45–60-minute training: https://www.redcross.ca/ohrontario/home
The Canadian Red Cross also provides naloxone kits which can be ordered at the above website.
At Bridge Legal & HR Solutions we can help you untangle and understand the web of legal obligations that applies to your business. To find out how we can help, contact us through our contact form or call us at 647-794-5442.