As the cannabis industry becomes more mainstream, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) will be making sure that cannabis business employers are creating safe workplaces, just as any other industry. And while marijuana businesses don’t appear to be high risk in safety, they are a novelty and there are many OSHA laws and regulations that aren’t being addressed.
Even though the sale of cannabis isn’t yet federally sanctioned, OSHA laws, both on the federal and state level are still enforceable as they apply to worker safety.

Why should cannabis businesses be concerned about OSHA?
All employers are required to comply with OSHA regulations including those involved in the Cannabis Industry, and this fact isn’t widely known, causing unexpected citations and fines to be forthcoming. Owners aren’t routinely being proactive in following OSHA standards because they didn’t know they needed to.
Cannabis businesses have experienced a growing number of OSHA inspections since 2011, and around 10 in Colorado within the past year. All have resulted in fines.

What are the most common cannabis related OSHA violations?
The most common ones we are seeing have to do with electrical safety. Commonly extension cords are connected to equipment and lighting. This is an illegal and unsafe practice that results in fines currently ranging between $3,000 – $11,000 dollars for each infraction. After the fines are paid, the owners still have to install hard wiring throughout making this oversight costly.
Another violation has to do with the unintentional misuse of respirators. Medical evaluations, fit tests and training is required before respirators can be used- even voluntarily. Maximum penalties for this violation are $7,000 per employee so far and will max at approximately $12,000 when the fines increase in 2016.
Typically, there are more safety related concerns that arise from grow operations, although the extraction and manufacturing operations are a close second. There are no operations exempt from OSHA standards.

Another hot topic we are sure OSHA likely will be looking into more in the coming years is the use and storage of pesticides. If an employer is following the Department of Agriculture’s Worker Protection Standard, they will be pretty close to compliant with the laws outlined by OSHA (but not all of them so be diligent).

Other Cannabis Areas of Concern.
Edibles manufacturing can also pose problems as they have workplace conditions similar to industrial kitchens, pharmaceutical companies, nurseries and food manufacturing plants. These means equipment must be in good working order, chemicals must be labelled properly, personal protective equipment must be used and training programs need to be in place and documented.
The risks and concerns of retail cannabis stores run parallel to banks and convenience stores who carry large amounts of cash. These types of locations are dealing with safe exits and emergency preparedness measures in order to keep employees safe.

How do I avoid OSHA fines?
The State of Colorado has created a Marijuana Regulatory Health and Safety task force and I am serving as the Safety and Security Subcommittee chair. This task force is creating best practice, guidance document, for the industry which is anticipated to be released in April 2016. We are finding that many cannabis business owners believe they have very safe environments, but they are still missing many key components required for OSHA compliance and employee safety.
Being prepared by having training and systems in place before OSHA makes a visit, is the best plan. If there is an accident, injury, complaint or even death related to the workplace, hefty fines will likely follow.
Put some time into getting an OSHA safety program into place, just one step at a time. If OSHA does do an inspection, it won’t be a big deal because you will already have requirements in place.

The Osha Connection was recently featured in Marijuana Business Daily.

by Jolene Donahue

OSHA vs. Cannabis