Workplace Safety Compliance in the Cannabis Industry on CS&T
This is an excerpt from an article found on Cannabis Science and Technology FULL ARTICLE
Workplace safety procedures help companies be the best they can be, especially when it comes to ensuring your staff goes home the same way they arrived. These are just a few ways to begin your safety journey!
Better believe it, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has regulatory jurisdiction over cannabis facilities—including cultivation, processing, manufacturing, laboratory, and retail. Businesses are required to ensure a safe workplace, including cannabis and hemp businesses regardless of their federal legalization status. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers must provide “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 to his [their] employees.” Simply put, regardless of company type, companies are obligated to provide a safe workplace.
OSHA isn’t making regular visits to these kinds of facilities at this time, but they’re visiting on a complaint basis. This means if an employee, former employee, or other person sees an issue with worker safety in your facility they can report you to OSHA. This would then trigger the need for an unannounced site visit. During that visit the investigators will conduct an audit of the facility and will make you aware of any violations of OSHA regulations. They will later provide you with a full report of violations and the fines associated with those violations. This is not a good place to be in if you haven’t put any OSHA documents or practices in place.
Regulatory oversight of workplace safety is much-needed, especially in the booming cannabis industry. The OSHA standards are “written in blood,” meaning the regulations most likely stemmed from a terrible incident observed at a place of work. The regulated cannabis industry is young, yet we are seeing more workplace safety issues make the news in the saddest way possible.
Consequences From Not Ensuring Workplace Safety
OSHA incentivizes companies to abide by their standards by using hefty fines! And we mean hefty… the most serious penalty for a willful or repeated violation has a maximum of $136,532 per violation (1). Other than a monetary financial fine, other consequences may include criminal fines (employers have been sentenced to prison in extreme cases), disruptions to your business, time loss, and ultimately your revenue loss. It’s essential for your business to be well prepared prior to OSHA’s visit: for your bottom line, your employee’s safety, and your business’s reputation. Not only are employers required to provide a safe working environment, companies must also keep multiple records of work-related injuries or illnesses and various safety programs.
Workplace Fatality at a Cannabis Facility
A tragic workplace fatality occurred in January 2022 at a Trulieve Holyoke Holdings Massachusetts cannabis facility. OSHA concluded the death was caused from an occupational exposure to cannabis particulate dust. The unfortunate result was due to an asthmatic reaction. This sad fatality could have, and should have, been prevented.
Following the workplace death, OSHA conducted an investigation and identified three separate citations (2):
- Citation: Serious violation for not compiling a list of hazardous chemicals in the facility, including, but not limited to, ground cannabis, using a product identifier which was referenced on the appropriate safety data sheet.
- Citation: Serious violation for not obtaining or developing a safety data sheet for hazardous chemicals such as, but not limited to, ground cannabis, which was produced by grinding dried cannabis flower and packaging into pre-rolls.
- Citation: Serious violation for not providing effective information and training on hazards of the material, including but not limited to, exposure prevention, signs and symptoms of inhalation hazards involving the upper and/or lower respiratory tract and skin contact including irritation, itching, and/or hives, and the need for medical evaluation should symptoms develop.
Although OSHA has submitted several serious violations to Trulieve (with proposed fines), what is it going to take for businesses to take workplace safety seriously before we see more illness, injury, or death related incidents at cannabis facilities? Perhaps an increased awareness of OSHA expectations and increased regulatory oversight will encourage companies to see safety compliance as a need rather than a barrier. Whichever method of encouragement works, our goals are to ensure our employees leave work in the same way they arrived at work.
What Can Employers Do to Ensure a Safe Workplace?
Although employers have the responsibility to ensure a safe workplace, there isn’t much guidance for cannabis businesses on how to achieve compliance. Allay Consulting selected a few ways to ensure compliance at the workplace: hiring a safety professional, creating a safe workplace culture, and education.
Hire Safety Professionals
In our experience, many employers do not know how to identify, prevent, or react to workplace hazards. Safety professionals provide you a workplace safety baseline to evaluate changes needed to become compliant. Specialists are better suited to investigate safety environments and failures. When injuries and illnesses occur at work, there are failures (often multiple) that led to these events; there is rarely a single cause. A safety professional will be able to determine what each unique facility is lacking and what they may need to become a safe and compliant workplace. Professionals will provide ways of fixing the concerns before it results in an injury, illness, death, or violations.
Creating Safety Culture
Make safety a part of your company culture! Make sure safety is a part of your daily talks and expectations. Make sure your standard operating procedures (SOP) and employee contracts mention safety compliance, so your employees have a clear understanding of what is expected of them. Encourage staff members to bring up their safety concerns. Validate their concerns. Something that has helped create a safety culture in my experience is to have departments conduct safety walks in other departments along with regular internal and third party audits. This allows new perspectives and observations in a work area.
Employers are expected to train their staff, especially when it comes to worker safety training. In fact, this is a federal requirement. OSHA requires health and safety program implementation along with evidence of training. For example, employers are expected to train their staff on the dangers of their workplace—this includes training on handling chemicals, how to properly wear a respirator, solvent transfilling, and so on. Unfortunately, Allay has seen many founded OSHA complaints based on lack of training.
Know Your Regulations
There are more worker safety regulations to keep in mind than just OSHA. OSHA might be the highest fining department federally, but there are local and state jurisdictions that you must abide by as well. Make sure that your facility is being built with local excise licensing, building code, zoning, and fire codes in mind as well as OSHA. Keep in mind that OSHA is different than fire code compliance and every state and county has different fire regulations that need to be followed. OSHA and fire code definitely go hand in hand, but they are not exactly the same. There are also SOP and documentation requirements for these different entities as well. We always suggest you go online to see the regulations in your particular area that need to be followed and to reach out to your local regulatory bodies to get clarity on anything you might not understand. Being preventative rather than reactive to safety issues is always the way you want to be, trust me.
We love supporting our clients with mitigating risk and increasing safety at the workplace. We hope sharing these different compliance approaches provides useful insight and an opportunity to learn from our experience.
If you want to learn more about OSHA compliance in the cannabis industry, check out Vicente Sederberg’s webinar featuring Kelsey Hanley with Allay: OSHA Compliance in the Cannabis Industry: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mfCcznCVZM
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