Part of Prevention

Impairment in the workplace

Information for employers and workers on how to recognize and respond to impairment in the workplace.


Worker impairment, regardless of the cause, could create a work site health and safety hazard.

If impairment creates a hazard or unsafe work situation, employers, supervisors, workers and other worksite parties have an obligation to address it and implement controls under the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act.

Employers may encourage workers to disclose known impairment that may affect workplace health and safety without needing to disclose the cause of the impairment. The risk of injury or illness increases when a hazard is not identified or controlled.

Resource: Impairment in the workplace: OHS information for workers and employers

Causes of impairment

Impairment can be caused by any physical or psychological condition that affects a workers ability to safely perform their assigned work and creates risk to themselves or others.

Causes can include:

  • medical conditions – such as seizures or unexplained unconsciousness
  • prescription or non-prescription drugs – including cold medication or pain relievers
  • recreational cannabis – workplace policies should ensure workers understand their expectations around consumption
  • alcohol – poor coordination, slurring words
  • fatigue – feeling very tired, weary or sleepy resulting from both mental or physical factors
  • mental health concerns – including depression or anxiety
  • temporary, situational stressors – such as grief or financial problems

Recognizing impairment

Impairment can be unique for every situation and for each individual. Many causes cannot be identified by testing.

Supervisors should be educated, trained and understand how to recognize impairment.

Workers should be aware of impairment risks in the workplace and disclose known hazards to themselves and others.

Common indicators of impairment include:

  • physical – changes in health, altered demeanor, slurred speech or lack of hygiene
  • psychosocial – changes in an ability to focus on tasks, forgetfulness, inappropriate behaviours or changes in mood
  • workplace – increased absence, errors in judgement, change or decrease in performance or other significant changes in quality of work


Responding to impairment


Employers and supervisors should develop clear policies of what is considered impairment in the workplace, how impairment will be investigated and provide training to workers.

Responding to situations of impairment should be done fairly and without judgement.

If there is an observed impairment, employers or supervisors should take steps to address unsafe situations and control the hazard, such as not assigning activities to a worker or not allowing them to continue working.

Contact emergency services immediately if there is a crisis or medical emergency.

Employers can address impairment in the workplace by:

  • identifying and assessing hazards
  • identifying controls to prevent impairment in the workplace
  • developing safe work procedures
  • reporting incidents
  • investigating and documenting incidents
  • supporting workers


Workers have an obligation to perform their job safely. They must not perform work when there is a risk of impairment that may affect the health and safety of themselves and others.

Workers are expected to cooperate with their employer or supervisor by reporting known impairment that may affect their ability to perform the job safely or the safety at the workplace.

Workers do not have to disclose the cause of impairment.


Testing for impairment

Current legislation does not address testing for impairment.

Employers who choose to test workers where safety is a concern should seek legal advice on issues of human rights, labour and employment law, privacy, and occupational health and safety before implementing a testing program.

Developing policies

Supervisors and employers can help promote a culture of safety by creating policies that recognize and respond to impairment in the workplace.

Health and safety committees and representatives can help develop work site policies and procedures for impairment to help create a culture of prevention.

The impairment policy template is a tool to help develop or revise workplace impairment policies.

Some factors to consider are:

  • current legislation and laws
  • privacy and confidentiality
  • workplace environments and specific job duties
  • size of the organization
  • operations in multiple jurisdictions
  • purpose and objectives
  • definition of terms
  • fitness-to-work approach to impairment
  • worker and employer roles and responsibilities
  • clearly stating who is included or excluded in the policy
  • disclosure expectations and reporting process, including a mechanism to report impairment in confidence
  • processes for accommodation
  • supportive processes for workers

Reporting concerns

Workers who report health and safety concerns are protected under the OHS Act, from disciplinary action (section 18). This does not include any reasonable conduct of an employer or supervisor related to the normal management of workers or a work site.

If the impairment is related to a protected human right, the employer will have other obligations under the Alberta Human Rights Act.