Medicinal cannabis is a prescribed medication that is derived from the cannabis plant and is used most often for the treatment of chronic pain (for lower back, neck or neuropathic), anxiety, epilepsy and insomnia.
Medicinal cannabis differs from recreational cannabis (marijuana) as medicinal cannabis is developed to meet defined criteria and control parameters. Whereas marijuana is classed as an illegal drug where the active ingredients and other impurities are unknown.
Medicinal cannabis is usually taken by inhalation (smoking) or by oral ingestion by oils or capsules. Depending on the way it is taken, it will affect the time of onset of the medication and the duration of the medication within the body.
There are two primary compounds within medicinal cannabis – tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), with THC compound having the potential to impair neurocognitive function. There are multiple factors that impact the level of impairment including the frequency, dosage, and the time of the day taken. These factors can result in the worker being in a higher risk when undertaking driving and safety-sensitive activities such as high-risk work.
There are also other known side-effects from medicinal cannabis treatment (both CBD and THC) that include fatigue and sedation, vertigo, nausea and vomiting, fever, decreased or increased appetite, dry mouth, and diarrhoea. THC (and products high in THC) have also been associated with convulsions, feeling high or feeling dissatisfied, depression, confusion, hallucinations, paranoid delusions, psychosis, and cognitive distortion (having thoughts that are not true).
Western Australia is home to 129 public aquatic facilities and thousands more school, hotel/motel and back yard pools. While many know of the risks within these facilities such as lack of patron supervision, inappropriate use of shallow water and issues associated with slips, trips and falls – non-compliance with equipotential bonding (earthing) requirements can present a relatively unknown or hidden risk.
Medicinal cannabis is a therapy that has generated increased national attention over the past two years.
Using medicinal cannabis that has been prescribed by a medical professional is not illegal in WA, however it is an offence under the Road Traffic Act (WA) to be driving a vehicle with any level of THC in your system.
If an employee (or any person authorised to operate a vehicle/ plant) caused an accident and if they were impaired by the medicinal cannabis then the Motor Protection Policy exclusion would be triggered and would not cover the employee’s (and local government’s) liability – in other words, they should not be driving if they are using medicinal cannabis and have THC in their system.
In addition to the Road Traffic Act, local governments and workers have a legal obligation under the Work Health and Safety Act 2020 in regards to maintaining a safe workplace.
This duty includes reporting to the local government (PCBU) any medication that may have an increased safety risk to the worker or others as a result of any impairment from taking the medication.
To meet these legislative duties, when a worker declares that they are using prescribed medicinal cannabis, the local government will need to consider potential safety risks associated with the usage of the medication, particularly in regards to driving/operating plant and carrying out any high risk work activity.
1. Risk assessment
Local governments should undertake a formal risk assessment based on the individual circumstances of the worker.
The risk assessment should consider:
2. Consult an expert
Once the initial risk assessment is carried out, local governments should then consult an occupational physician to determine:
3. Keep records of all elements in the process
To ensure that the local government is managing individual cases effectively and consistently, it should have documented processes in place. These include:
In 2022/23 LGIS received over 2,300 claims and paid out over $43.8 million. It’s a similar story most years with LGIS handling more than 2,000 claims across property, liability, workers’ compensation, motor and volunteer bushfire fighter protection.
An outside worker in his early 40s sustained a significant workplace injury to his lower back at a local government owned/ operated facility while trying to assist a ratepayer who had attended the facility.