New Canadian Guidelines on Alcohol and Health: What Employers Need to Know
Alcohol topped the news cycle in Canada this week when the Canadian Centre on Substance use and Addiction released their latest report, “Canada’s Guide on Alcohol and Health”. The nearly 90-page report, from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), funded by Health Canada, details a variety of health risks associated with what was previously considered low alcohol consumption. While the CCSA does not make legislation, their guidance is influential and could possibly be referred to in both legislative or judicial proceedings.
“The new guidance is maybe a bit shocking,” said Dr. Erin Hobin, a senior scientist with Public Health Ontario and a member of the expert panel that developed the guidelines. “The main message from this new guidance is that any amount of alcohol is not good for your health. And if you drink, less is better.”
The guide states that any consumption of alcohol has risk. This is a dramatically lowered position for the Centre when compared to their 2011 guidance that listed levels of risk at much higher consumption rates. For example, the 2011 guide recommends, to reduce long-term health risks by drinking no more than 10 drinks a week for women or 15 drinks a week for men and avoid drinking on some days each week. The 2023 guide does provide a scale of risk matched to weekly consumption, however the new bar is set at zero drinks per week for no risk.
Commenting on the correlation between alcohol and potential health issues, Dr. Hobin added: “I think it’s very new information for the public that at three standard drinks per week, the risk for head and neck cancers increases by 15%, and further increases with every additional drink.”
However there are dissenting views to what the CCSA published. In a recent article in The Globe and Mail, Professor Dan Malleck from the Department of Health Sciences at Brock University points out the study uses a “relatively narrow understanding of how alcohol functions”. Professor Malleck also points out the study does not adequately consider other contributing factors to disease risk besides alcohol.
The new guide is an important document that should be considered in future policy development. The topic is clearly complex and the influence of the new CCSA guide on future legislation or tribunal rulings is uncertain. Corridor’s Subject Matter Expert for Alcohol and Drugs will continue to closely follow any changes this or any future study has on workplace standards and update our training material accordingly.
Employers have an obligation under occupational health and safety legislation to ensure all employees and contract workers are operating safely. Setting out a clear policy addressing alcohol and other drugs for employees and a separate statement of requirements for contractors is one key way to meet this obligation. Critical to this is clear communication of the rules and expectations along with providing training for supervisors and employees so they understand their own obligations when it comes to ensuring compliance with the alcohol and drug policy.