3 EH&S Considerations for Cannabis Enterprises

As the cannabis industry grows rapidly, cannabis companies have the opportunity to set the industry culture around EH&S compliance. Your cannabis company, depending on the process, is regulated by many agencies, including:

  • Cannabis Control Commission
  • State-run cannabis control agencies
  • Food and Drug Administration
  • Drug Enforcement Agency
  • Occupational Safety & Health Administration
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • State-run environmental agencies

Each of these agencies creates regulations that your company has to follow. It is important to have a strong EH&S program to protect your employees and the environment while ensuring that you are compliant with state and federal marijuana regulations. When designing your EH&S program, the focus should be on engineering hazards out of the process. Personal protective equipment (PPE) should only be relied on when it is not possible to eliminate the hazards. Here are three major EH&S considerations for your cannabis enterprise.

Air Quality Controls for Cannabis Companies

Cannabis exposure has both physical and behavioral effects that can impact your employees’ ability to do their job. Depending on your process, employees are also at risk of exposure to solvent volatiles during extraction. According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, impaired workers are 20-30% less productive than workers who are not under the influence of workplace hazards. 

Inhalation and ingestion are two major exposure routes for cannabis and solvent volatiles. To minimize exposure risk, you should have strong air quality controls in place. A good HVAC and an air purification system are helpful to reduce airborne cannabis risks in cultivating and harvesting areas. However, it is important to consider other methods outside of these areas to help process safety control. Quality control labs should come equipped with fume hoods to prevent exposure to chlorinated and non-chlorinated solvents. Always make sure your fume hoods are inspected regularly to ensure proper sash height and air flow! In areas using grinding machines, you may have to rely on PPE as well. Grinding machines will create airborne cannabis particles, so employees should wear masks or respirators that are fit-tested appropriately to each employee.

Ergonomic Considerations for Cannabis Enterprises

Improper ergonomics is a major workplace hazard across all jobs in the cannabis industry. Protecting employee health means considering the ergonomics of each workstation. Many industry jobs require repetitive motions and sitting or standing in one position for a long period of time; proper ergonomics is vital to protecting worker health. Budtenders and cultivators spend much of their day bending over plants and reaching for buds. Trimmers spend their time sitting or standing over buds, cutting in a tray. These repetitive motions can strain muscles and joints. OSHA looks at ergonomics for worker safety because improper ergonomics causes long-term, chronic health issues for workers in all industries. Protecting worker health, proper ergonomics ensures your employees are happy, healthy, and physically able to continue working for you (and not out on short-term or long-term disability).

Personal Protective Equipment for Cannabis Companies

As mentioned earlier, PPE should only be relied on when hazards cannot be eliminated, because PPE must be used properly to ensure it doesn’t fail. Although you shouldn’t rely on PPE as the main form of worker protection, your workers should always wear PPE to protect themselves and the product. For example, employees should use proper ear protection when working near grinding machines, which are often quite loud. The sound the grinders make is much higher than the OSHA hearing exposure limits for an employee.

Note that absorption is the third major exposure route (in addition to inhalation and ingestion). Gloves and safety glasses are used to protect from the cannabis processes and any solvents or toxic chemicals used in your processes. It is important for employees to keep their skin covered to prevent exposure. Additionally, employee skin cells or oils can absorb into the cannabis plant, contaminating your product. Proper PPE will prevent exposure in both directions. In addition, employees should wear work uniforms that can be laundered from a company at work. Dirty uniforms should never go home with employees.

Don’t forget you need written plans on PPE programs and hearing protection to safeguard your employees according to OSHA!

Ensure You Have an Effective EH&S Plan

It is vital to have an effective EH&S plan to protect your employees and comply with state and federal marijuana regulations. We are all quick to grow and sell but we must think of our employees and their wellbeing too. Organizations in the cannabis industry need to set a culture of creating critical OSHA and environmental programs for the building blocks of sustainable future success. You should always look to protect your employees; this is the #1 goal! Consider each process, the hazards associated with each one, and ask, “Will my employees go home the same way they came into work today?” If the answer is no, there is a process that impairs or exposes them to a hazard, that process needs to be changed.

Remember, set the culture in the cannabis industry as a profitable, safe, and secure environment in which to work. Set the stage for future success by laying stable and sustainable groundwork for upward movement in your industry with EH&S as a core tenet you provide to you and your employees.

If you would like to learn more about designing and setting up a EH&S program for your cannabis facility, please visit our Cannabis Enterprises page or click the button below to contact us. Our team of experts can help evaluate your existing program or design a new one to help ensure that your facility is compliant and your employees are protected. 

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