May 2010

Toronto set to launch 'Fitness for Duty' program in August

by METRO Staff

Courtesy TTC

In addition to its existing drug and alcohol policy, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is set to roll out the "Fitness for Duty" program for employees in "safety sensitive" positions. The program will include drug and alcohol testing of employees, if the TTC finds a reasonable cause.

The new policy, which TTC officials hope will become effective this August, will include improved procedures for investigating policy violations, such as testing for drugs and alcohol, and will address the issue of extreme fatigue.

"We are also introducing better resources and more assistance for employees experiencing problems with alcohol, drugs or extreme fatigue, because we realize that addressing problems early on prevents the onslaught of serious illnesses," said Nadia Pazzano, program administrator of the "Fitness for Duty" program. "Obviously, the purpose of the program is still to ensure the health and safety of employees, customers and the public."

Pazzano explained that part of the impetus for instituting the new program stems from the death of a subway maintenance worker and serious injury of two other workers in April 2007. The worker had previously been caught using drugs before the accident but was returned to the job without sufficient follow-up.

"One incident is one too many, so one of the recommendations from our Health and Safety Department, who investigated that incident, was to have in place heightened protection, in terms of ensuring employees report fit for work," she said.

Presently, the TTC is developing training and materials to help inform supervisors of the 28 indicators — including slurred speech, disorientation and lack of motor coordination —  that would justify reasonable cause for testing an employee under the ­program.

"We never assume alcohol and drugs is at the bottom of erratic behavior. It really starts out as a fit for duty investigation, and somebody can be unfit for duty for a number of reasons, such as forgetting to take their insulin to suffering from a heart attack or an emotional breakdown," Pazzano explained. "We are training our supervisors to make an inquiry, and if someone is acting erratically, to remove them from duty and ask them a couple of questions, then assess if the employee's explanation for their behavior makes sense." 

Prior to subjecting an employee to drug and alcohol testing, each supervisor will be required to get a second opinion from another supervisor and fill out the proper documentation.

Pazzano explained that when the policy goes into effect, there are five specific situations when drug and alcohol testing will be imposed - reasonable cause as part of investigation, post-incident, during certification training for safety-specific jobs, post-treatment if an employee has previously had a problem and been enrolled in a program, and following a violation of the policy.

"In most cases, if you score positive and are impaired, in possession of, or consuming alcohol or drugs, then the penalty is termination, but it will depend on the circumstances," Pazzano said. "We describe it as 'discipline up to and including termination.'"

Pazzano added that the TTC's Discipline Department will ultimately decide the fate of those employees who test positive for drugs or alcohol, keeping in mind that the agency has a responsibility to accommodate employees with chemical dependencies under provisions in the Human Rights Code.

The TTC has its confidential Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) already in place, which makes counselors available 24/7 to talk to employees about problems that are impacting their performance, including substance abuse. Pazzano added that TTC's Occupational Health Department can also assess employees who come forward with possible abuse issues, and refer them to a substance abuse professional or EFAP, depending on the ­circumstances.

Prior to instituting drug and alcohol testing as part of its policies, the TTC had to complete a number of steps, according to Pazzano, including writing policy and various procedures under the policy, as well as developing the training program, assessing every single position at the TTC to determine whether it was "safety sensitive" or not, and consulting with its unions.

It also had to put out a tender for service providers.

"How these programs work is that you have to contract with a laboratory, a third-party administrator and actual collectors to be called into the workplace who collect a sample," said Pazzano. "It's a very complex and rigorous process to include something like this in the workplace."

Pazzano added that the TTC has also gone to great lengths to give employees a proper amount of notice that they may be subject to drug and alcohol testing in certain circumstances, so that they have the time to become aware of the resources and assistance available to address their problems before a policy is actually introduced in the workplace. 

"Clearly a program like this does not happen overnight," she said. "We're looking at August as a tentative date for the policy to be in effect and, hopefully, at that point all our training and employee communication will be completed."


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