The opioid overdose crisis has caused many challenges to people across Canada, including introducing health and safety challenges to workplaces. The rate of opioid overdoses is at such critical levels that the Ontario government passed legislation that will require some workplaces to have a naloxone kit and train staff to recognize and respond to an opioid overdose if one occurs.
Naloxone in the workplace is a lifesaving medication which can reverse an opioid overdose and save the life of a person who is experiencing an overdose. In this article, we will explore the importance of creating and maintaining naloxone policies in the workplace, focusing on key areas such as workplace policies and procedures, employee training, stigma reduction, integration with employee assistance programs (EAPs), and the recent requirement for naloxone kits in certain workplaces.
Naloxone in the Workplace: Preparedness for Life-Saving Interventions
Developing workplace policies and procedures that incorporate naloxone preparedness is essential for an effective response to opioid overdoses. Amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), which came into force on June 1, 2023, require high-risk workplaces to provide a naloxone kit and ensure that staff are trained to recognize an overdose and respond if an overdose occurs.
To ensure that they comply with new legal requirements, we recommend that employers establish a workplace naloxone policy, even if one is not necessarily required immediately. Not all workplaces require naloxone kits under the OHSA; however, a well-written policy should include conditions outlining how to implement a workplace naloxone program if one is necessary. A workplace naloxone program will include elements such as:
- When a naloxone kit is required. What information will be used to determine that a kit must be available on-site?
- The frequency of a risk assessment to determine if a naloxone kit is required. What will trigger a reassessment?
- Acceptable training and your preferred provider. Will training be provided by one of your workers or by an outside professional?
- Details about who is responsible for maintaining the naloxone kit recording inspections of the kit’s contents.
Regular policy reviews and updates are crucial to adapt to changing circumstances and advances in naloxone administration.
Employee Training and Education on Naloxone Administration
Employee training and education on naloxone administration are key components of workplace naloxone policies. The OHSA requires high-risk employers to provide training on:
- How to recognize an opioid overdose
- How to administer naloxone in the event of an opioid overdose
- Hazards that may be associated with administering naloxone
There are many ways to provide this required training. Employers can provide training internally, but naloxone administration can be a very complex topic for workers who don’t have a background in healthcare. Employers can also use outside trainers who specialize in health and safety training. The training can be provided live, or through eLearning, depending on your organization’s needs and what fits best with your staff and scheduling demands.
Promoting a Stigma-Free Workplace: Supporting Employees at all Stages
Creating a stigma-free workplace environment is crucial for supporting employees who may be experiencing an opioid addiction. Employers need to prioritize education and awareness to foster understanding and empathy among employees.
Addressing stigma is crucial in shifting workplace culture to being more open and accepting of all workers. It’s also important to remember that stigma associated with mental health and addictions doesn’t only impact an individual living with mental health conditions but can have an impact on the entire workplace. Some examples of promoting a stigma-free workplace are simple like changing the language used when discussing mental health or addictions.
The Canadian Mental Health Association provides some suggestions about language that may seem innocuous but could potentially harm someone with mental health issues. If employers require more information, they can contact an expert trained in mental health and occupational health and safety to develop a comprehensive strategy.
Integrating Naloxone with Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
If a worker confides to a colleague about a mental health concern, they are commonly referred to an Employee Assistance Program, often called an EAP. EAPs can offer resources, counselling, and referrals to appropriate treatment services. By incorporating information about Naloxone in the workplace within EAP communications, employers can ensure that employees know this life-saving tool and how to access it when needed.
Not every person living with addictions or who consumes opioids will feel comfortable talking about it. By providing information in different ways, employers can teach as many workers as possible about naloxone. The goal is to provide information that is accessible and at a time and place where people are able to use it most effectively.
Workplace Safety Drills: Simulating Overdose Scenarios and Response
Workplace safety drills, including simulated opioid overdose scenarios, are a vital tool in workplace safety policies and training. Medical emergencies are stressful situations and knowing how to respond if one occurs is vital to increasing a person’s chances of survival. These drills help employees understand how to respond quickly and effectively in an emergency situation with the equipment and materials available to them.
By conducting drills that simulate overdose incidents, employees become familiar with the appropriate steps to take, including accessing naloxone kits and administering the medication. These drills also give an opportunity for practice and feedback in a relatively low stakes environment so that workers can become comfortable with what to do in a real emergency.
Implementing and maintaining policies for Naloxone in the workplace is crucial for ensuring employee safety and support in the face of opioid overdose incidents. Creating an effective workplace program takes more than simply writing a policy; it takes commitment from leadership, investment of time in training activities, and integrating messaging into current and new health and safety-related communications.
By incorporating naloxone training as a component of your workplace health and safety program, organizations can create a culture of safety, care, and responsiveness. These measures save lives and promote a supportive environment for employees affected by mental health conditions and addictions. As workplaces navigate the challenges posed by the opioid crisis, it is essential to prioritize employee well-being and implement comprehensive naloxone policies that reflect best practices and foster a safe and inclusive workplace.