Drug and alcohol impairment on-the-job can pose serious hazards for workers. However, it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker in terms of workers’ compensation. It really depends on the underlying circumstances and whether the worker was appreciably impaired and the impairment caused the injury.
This issue is going to be coming up with greater frequency as pro-marijuana legislation sweeps this country. Although the drug is still illegal in both North Carolina and South Carolina, bills have been floated in both states that would change that. As it now stands, more than half the states in the U.S. plus D.C. allow the drug for medicinal purpose and a handful allow it for recreation. The question of what constitutes as marijuana “impairment” is a tough one because unlike alcohol, THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) remains in one’s system for much longer than 24 hours. That means evidence of the drug in one’s blood stream – even at higher levels – does not necessarily prove intoxication.
Recently in Colorado, it was revealed that a worker who died after being crushed in a Denver factory had THC in his system. However, the investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is more heavily focused on the purported flaws in the equipment.
According to The Denver Post, the worker was caught in a machine known as an aluminum slitter, wherein he suffered severe and ultimately fatal injuries. The most severe of those injuries were crushing of the brain and chest. The worker did have THC – the psychoactive chemical in marijuana – in his bloodstream when he died.
OSHA said it’s still investigating, and is particularly interested in determining whether the machine involved in the incident was either improperly set up or otherwise malfunctioning. If that is the case, an agency official said, the fact the worker had THC in his system isn’t going to matter with regard to determination of a federal penalty against the company. Every serious violation would cost the company $12,500.
The fact of THC in the worker’s system could potentially be used as a means to deny his family workers’ compensation death benefits. Generally, workers’ compensation is a no-fault type of coverage, but if the company can prove the worker’s level of impairment was a direct cause of the injury, they may be able to avoid paying benefits.
OSHA in this case is specifically learned with determining whether the guards on the machine used to protect the person operating it were properly in place and functional. Officials said this would not be a simple little device that could have been misplaced. This is a complicated machine and it would require an elaborate system to protect workers.
This particular facility hasn’t been inspected by OSHA in more than 15 years. Complaints are typically the catalyst that triggers an investigation.
North Carolina, unlike a number of neighboring states, doesn’t allow a carrier of workers’ compensation insurance to deny coverage for a work-related injury or fatality just because someone was under the influence of non-prescribed drugs or alcohol. But the worker may still be in for a battle if the company decides to press the issue.
If you are injured at work, we can help.
If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
Worker crushed at Denver factory had THC in system; OSHA investigates equipment, Sept. 13, 2016, By Tom McGhee, The Denver Post
More Blog Entries:
Bentley v. Piner Construction – New Hearing Granted on Employee Status in WC Case, Sept. 23, 2016, Winston-Salem Workers’ Compensation Attorney Blog