Reducing Fear and Inaction: Using supervisor training to build confidence  

Workplace Training

By Chelsey Tannahill on July 11, 2023


Since the implementation of Bill 30 and the resultant changes to Alberta Occupational Health and Safety legislation back in 2018, worker “fitness for duty” has become increasingly important within safety-sensitive industries.

Employers must take a more holistic and comprehensive approach to workplace health and safety by ensuring that workers are not only competent to perform their job tasks, but also that they are physically and psychologically capable of performing these tasks SAFELY.

For many employers, the first step in this fitness-for-duty journey has been policy-focused, with time spent revising former Drug and Alcohol policies into Fitness for Duty policies and implementing additional policies such as Fatigue Management and Harassment / Violence policies. This is fantastic! Having clearly written and legally defensible policies is integral to an effective Fitness for Duty program, however, it is equally important to provide education
on these policies and train those who will administer them. Someone must ensure that workers comply with the policies, identify when workers may not be fit for duty, and take appropriate action – a daunting task regularly delegated to supervisors.

Every year I speak to hundreds, if not thousands, of supervisors and managers about managing impairment and worker fitness for duty. I am often overwhelmed by the number of stories I hear regarding workplaces where “everyone knew” about a worker’s persistent unfit state, but action taken to address this major safety risk was taken much later than it should have been, if at all. The common denominator in supervisor inaction? FEAR! Fear of
being wrong in their assessment of the worker. Fear of reprisal from the worker or of ruining a friendship. Fear of not being supported by their organization. Fear of violating the law and being sued. And it is this fear and the resulting inaction that puts all workers, the supervisor, and the organization at risk!

Providing supervisors with training on how to effectively identify impairment from all sources and to take action that aligns with company policy, supports the worker, and protects the supervisor and organization from legal liability greatly alleviates this fear and in turn, helps supervisors to take action with confidence. An effective training program is one that:

  • Is delivered by an instructor with expertise in the subject matter and effective teaching practices
  • Is interactive and allows supervisors with different learning styles to engage with the content
  • Provides opportunities to practice the processes and documentation required (building confidence!)
  • Addresses all topics necessary to support the supervisor in identifying impairment and taking action. These topics should include:
    • Relevant legislation (Human Rights, Privacy, Occupational Health, and Safety) and supervisor responsibilities under the law
    • Policy orientation and supervisor obligations under the policy
    • Sources of Impairment and substance awareness
    • Recognizing signs of impairment
    • Managing fitness for duty situations – post-incident process, reasonable cause process, the process for handling employee disclosures of medical/mental health conditions or medications

Lead by a subject matter expert with a bachelor’s degree in Education, the Reasonable Cause Supervisor Training program offered by Shift OHS Inc. provides supervisors with the knowledge and skills necessary to manage worker fitness for duty with confidence. Supervisors will engage with the content through multiple means including quizzes, tactile exercises, and role plays. The program is held bi-monthly in both classrooms (Edmonton, Red Deer, Calgary) and in virtual formats to enable easy access to training for supervisors in any location. Additionally, the program can be delivered in-house directly to an organization, with the content customized to reflect the organization’s practices and procedures. Visit the Shift OHS Inc. website ( for more information or to register.