Cannabis operators have their hands full keeping up with day to day operations and the ever changing landscape of operational compliance. While OSHA as a federal entity has not made a formal stance on health and safety in the cannabis industry, worker safety is very much a liability operators must remain cognizant of to maintain competitiveness in this growing enterprise. Some OSHA jurisdictions have provided support to local cannabis companies; but without federal legalization, many cannabis operators are blind to the wide range of risk and liabilities surrounding employee safety and compliance. Below are the top 5 safety risks cannabis employers should plan to mitigate.
- Health Hazards: It is important to note when developing your health and safety program that health effects are often caused low levels of exposure consistently over time. Because we can’t always physically see these hazards, it’s easy to forget that hazards exist in the air we breathe that are unseen to the naked eye. Seen or unseen, these hazards must be identified and mitigated.
- OSHA’s Hearing Conservation Rule states that employees exposed to noise greater than 85 decibels (in an 8-hour time weighted shift) are required to be enrolled in a hearing conservation program which includes audiometric testing as well as appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment) and warning signs.
- Improper ventilation and lack of appropriate PPE can lead to exposure to mold or other chemicals causing signs and symptoms such as as eye, nose or throat irritation, cancer, silicosis, siderosis, or other types of illness.
- Your skin is your largest organ. Exposure to pesticides, fertilizers, and even cleaning chemicals can cause health effects mentioned above in improperly ventilated settings; but skin irritation and burns are one of the most common injuries reported amongst employees working in, or around hazardous chemicals.
- Occupational Injuries such as electrical shocks from poor wiring, cuts, pinches, ergonomic injuries; machine and tool usage are preventable through training and education. Knowing when a ladder should be taken out of service and comparable cord thickness when using hand tools and extension cords, can be the difference between completing a routine task, and responding to and reporting an injury.
- Emergency Preparedness: Did you know, employers with 11 or more employees are required to have written emergency prevention plans? At a minimum, these plans must include:
- Means of reporting fires and other emergencies
- Evacuation procedures and emergency escape route assignments
- Procedures for employees who remain to operate critical plant operations before they evacuate
- Accounting for all employees after an emergency evacuation has been completed
- Rescue and medical duties for employees performing them
- Physical Hazards such as fires and explosions are not uncommon in the cannabis industry. If you find you are required to have an emergency preparedness plan (detailed above), you will also be required to maintain a fire prevention plan. A 2018 OSHA investigation of a cannabis manufacturer found that, “citations were issued for violations related to inadequate training and failing to establish an emergency action plan and a hazard communication program. Employers must ensure employees are aware of the risks associated with working with flammable and combustible liquids and hazardous atmospheres.
- Training of all types are components of all new hire orientation processes; but when it comes to safety, OSHA has specific guidelines and recommendations for general industry.
Recreational cannabis is legal in 18 states and Washington, D.C., while medical cannabis is legal in 38. Of those states, 3 have OSHA specific guidance for worker safety in the cannabis industry. As we await federal legalization and industry specific guidance, we cannot overlook the responsibility operators have to protect employees today. Delta Compliance OSHA certified consultants are here to assist cannabis operators in managing and mitigating their safety and compliance risks.
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