Is your company ready for OSHA? Health and safety implications for workplaces in the cannabis industry –

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If you employ workers in the cannabis industry, consider making workplace health and safety one of your top priorities as you set goals for the new year.

With the rapid growth of the cannabis industry comes increased scrutiny from state regulators, including those charged with enforcing workplace health and safety laws. For example, in December 2022, cannabis manufacturer and retailer Trulieve announced that it had reached a settlement with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) over a summons issued in June 2022 for alleged violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The citation follows an OSHA investigation into the death of a Trulieve manufacturing worker from asthma-related complications allegedly linked to her occupational inhalation of cannabis dust. As part of the settlement of the allegations, Trulieve agreed to study the hazards of exposure to ground cannabis dust to determine whether cannabis dust should be classified as a “hazardous chemical” for OSHA purposes. Expected to be completed in May 2023, the study is likely to have nationwide implications for employers in the cannabis industry.

OSHA’s interest in occupational exposure to cannabis underscores the need for cannabis businesses to comply with workplace health and safety and to be prepared for regulatory oversight of their workplaces. Although OSHA’s current regulatory landscape does not specifically address cannabis, cannabis-dealing employers are subject to the same general requirement imposed on US employers under OSHA’s “general duty clause,” that is, to provide their employees with a workplace free of identifiable hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious injury to their employees. Additionally, cannabis employers must grapple with how current OSHA standards implicate hazards specific to their industry, including biological and chemical hazards involved in the manufacturing process and cannabis itself.

OSHA may impose specific obligations on cannabis businesses to protect their employees from workplace hazards, including in the following areas:

  1. Hazard Communication – Employers in the cannabis industry whose workers are exposed to hazardous chemicals such as pesticides, fungicides or carbon dioxide may be required to comply with OSHA’s hazard notification standard. The Hazard Communication Standard requires covered employers to, among other things, label hazardous chemicals and make available safety data sheets that provide specific information about the hazardous chemicals to which employees may be exposed.

  2. Protection of the respiratory system – Cannabis workers, especially those involved in cultivation, extraction and pruning, face health risks from exposure to airborne contaminants such as mould, yeast and fungi. OSHA’s respiratory protection standard imposes obligations on covered employers to protect workers from exposure to hazardous airborne particles through measures such as adequate ventilation of the work area and mandatory use of respirators (such as N-95 masks) by certain workers.

  3. Dangerous energy – The unexpected release of hazardous energy is implicated in many aspects of the cannabis business, including the servicing and maintenance of high-pressure extraction machines. OSHA’s lockout/tagout standard requires employers to train employees and have procedures in place to protect against the inadvertent release of hazardous energy in the workplace. Failure to follow effective lockout/tagout procedures can result in serious workplace injuries, including amputation due to accidental contact with moving parts of heavy machinery during maintenance activities. OSHA also requires employers to protect themselves from electrical hazards from, for example, the use of power tools in areas of high humidity and irrigation.

  4. Flammable liquids, gases and dust – The production of cannabis-infused products can expose workers to flammable liquids, such as cooking oil for the production of edible foods, and flammable gas, such as butane, when extracting hash oil from cannabis. OSHA requires employers to protect employees from fire hazards posed by flammable liquids and gases and combustible dust. As an example, OSHA may require employers to label and store flammable liquids and regulate the use of portable fire extinguishers in the workplace.

  5. Personal protective equipment – Employees who have direct contact with cannabis and its byproducts – such as workers who trim marijuana flowers or use UV lamps in cultivation operations – may experience skin or eye irritation or longer-term negative health effects. OSHA requires employers to provide personal protective equipment (“PPE”), such as gloves, safety glasses, and earplugs, to their employees whenever higher levels of protection, such as engineering controls or work practices, are not feasible or do not protect appropriate way danger.

In light of the many potential workplace hazards of cannabis, employers in the cannabis industry should take immediate steps to improve health and safety in the workplace, even if they are not legally required to do so. Employers may consider implementing the following measures as part of their overall health and safety efforts:

  1. Engage a consultant with the appropriate expertise to identify potential workplace hazards—whether cannabis-related or not—and recommend specific actions to address the hazards.

  2. Provide live training to your employees on how to recognize and protect themselves from potential health and safety hazards in your workplace.

  3. Conduct a job hazard analysis for each position in your workforce. OSHA provides examples and more information on developing a job hazard analysis.

  4. Make sure your employees know how to report workplace-related illnesses, accidents and safety issues and encourage them to do so.

  5. Hold meetings with your employees to review security questions and provide a forum for questions to be answered.

Cannabis businesses looking for workplace health and safety recommendations specific to their industry may want to review guidance issued by agencies in California, Oregon, and Colorado—states where the cannabis industry is more established than others due to earlier legalization of recreational hemp. .

In addition to the federal regulatory framework under OSHA discussed above, employers dealing with cannabis may be subject to more stringent workplace health and safety requirements under applicable state and local laws. Allegations of violating such laws alone can mean significant financial, operational and reputational costs for cannabis businesses. Accordingly, maximizing health and safety in the workplace should be a top priority for cannabis growers, processors, distributors and retailers. As you set budgets and goals for your cannabis business in 2023, here’s how to plan for a safe and healthy workplace.

Waiver: This warning has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should it be construed, as legal advice. For more information, please see the company full disclaimer.

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