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If you employ workers in the cannabis industry, consider including workplace health and safety among your top priorities as you set goals for the new year.
With the rapid growth of the cannabis industry comes increased scrutiny from government regulators, including those charged with enforcing workplace health and safety laws. For example, in December 2022, cannabis producer and retailer Trulieve announced that it reached a settlement with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) of a citation issued in June 2022 for alleged violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The citation followed OSHA’s investigation of the death of a Trulieve production worker from asthma-related complications allegedly related to her occupational inhalation of cannabis dust. As part of the resolution of the citation, Trulieve agreed to study the hazards of exposure to ground cannabis dust for purposes of determining whether cannabis dust should be classified as a “hazardous chemical” for OSHA purposes. Expected to be complete 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 be attuned to workplace health and safety and prepared for government scrutiny of their workplaces. Although OSHA’s current regulatory landscape does not address cannabis explicitly, cannabis employers are subject to the same general requirement imposed on U.S. employers under OSHA’s “general duty clause,” that is, to provide their employees with a place of employment free from recognizable hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious harm to their employees. In addition, cannabis employers need to grapple with how current OSHA standards implicate the hazards specific to their industry, including biological and chemical hazards involved in the production process and cannabis itself.
OSHA may impose specific obligations on cannabis businesses to protect their employees from hazards in the workplace, including in the following areas:
In light of the many potential hazards in the cannabis workplace, employers in the cannabis industry should take immediate steps to enhance workplace health and safety, even if not legally required to do so. Employers may consider implementing the following measures as part of their overall health and safety efforts:
Cannabis businesses looking for workplace health and safety recommendations specific to their industry may want to review the guidance issued by agencies in California, Oregon and Colorado—states in which the cannabis industry is more established than other states due to earlier legalization of recreational cannabis.
In addition to the federal regulatory landscape under OSHA discussed above, cannabis employers may be subject to stricter workplace health and safety requirements under applicable state and local law. Mere allegations of violating such laws can mean steep financial, operational and reputational costs for cannabis businesses. Accordingly, maximizing workplace health and safety should be top of mind for cannabis growers, processes, distributors and retailers alike. As you set budgets and goals for your cannabis business in 2023, here’s to planning for a safe and healthy workplace.
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