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How Employers Can Advance Health and Worker Safety in the Cannabis Industry

At the time of this article being written, recreational cannabis is legal for adults in 16 states, and medical marijuana is now legal in 36 states. In 2021 alone, five states across the country have legalized marijuana for recreational use: New Jersey, New York, Virginia, New Mexico, and most recently Connecticut on July 1st. As many states pass their own cannabis laws, the industry expands, calling for more jobs and therefore, more safety regulations. Leafly’s annual Cannabis Jobs Report found that in 2021, legal cannabis supports 321,000 full-time American jobs, with the addition of over 77,000 jobs nationwide in 2020, compared to 33,700 new jobs in 2019. With this rapid growth in employment, there is a demand for safety expertise, incident prevention, and environmental compliance. This is especially true for companies involved with cannabis production, manufacturing, distribution, laboratory quality control testing, and retail.

Addressing Cannabis Worker Safety

The Occupational Safety and Health Administrations (OSHA) “General Duty Clause” states that an employer “shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” Although legal cannabis is still a relatively new industry, employers need to look to the hazards that affect other industries when developing occupational health and safety plans for their cannabis business. Companies sometimes delay investing in safety programs until they are either inspected and fined or suffer a workplace injury or exposure. This typically causes a slowdown in business while plans and programs are re-designed and a new Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) culture is built. The benefits of being proactive with EHS programs far outweigh the cost of putting it off.

The following are some of the areas of safety that should be addressed:

  • Hazard communication (HazCom)
  • Chemical hygiene management
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Air quality and exposure control
  • Injury and Illness reporting
  • Regulated waste management
  • Risk management
  • Confined spaces
  • Electrical hazard safety
  • Lockout, Tagout

 

Safety Training Programs for Cannabis Workers

Identifying health and safety hazards within the facility is critical. It is the employer's responsibility to properly train personnel on all necessary safety standards in relation to hazards in the workplace. To ensure a safe working environment, the necessary plans, programs, and training must also be in place.

A knowledgeable EHS partner can be a reliable support to cannabis companies by offering the planning and resources needed to build a compliant safety management program and a successful safety culture that is ingrained in the facility's operations. The following are examples of cannabis/marijuana-related programs and training:

  • Hazard Communication Program
  • Chemical Hygeine Plan
  • Personal Protective Equipment Program
  • Respiratory Protection Plan
  • Emergency Action and Response Plan
  • Ergonomics Program
  • Regulated Waste Management Plan

Although there are no federal standards for training cannabis employees specific to the industry, employers still should review their state’s laws to understand the legal requirements for employee safety. Most states who have legalized cannabis, have specific state regulations governing their operations, and training based on OSHA, which is applicable to all legal business entities with greater than 10 employees on staff. The consequences to not having a compliant EHS management program established can be quite severe. First, there is the consideration of work-related injuries, illnesses, and even deaths which can incur costly regulatory fines, lawsuits, and legal fees. Not to mention that once OSHA is notified of an incident, repeated safety inspections will occur, to follow up on solutions to the incident and prevention actions taken to not let it occur again. These follow up inspections may lead to additional violations and citations if the safety program is not addressed accordingly. It is best to address the safety hazards and define a safety program within your facility to properly train employees as they first walk through the door, as to maintain a safe and compliant workplace for continued operation.

A skilled environmental partner like Triumvirate can be a great resource for cannabis companies by offering all of the tools needed to build a successful and compliant safety culture at your company. Our experts can perform an EHS HealthCheck (Gap Analysis) at your facility and establish an action plan to correct any shortcomings found on-site. From safety management and training to waste management, Triumvirate can help create a complete customized environmental program that will help your company stay safe and compliant. Learn more about our Cannabis Enterprises services below.

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