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Workplace Safety Becomes Essential for Cannabis Industry

Here's how cannabis providers can draft a workplace safety policy to avoid COVID-19 liabilities.

April 15, 2020 Photo

Throughout the country, business closures, school closures, shelter in place and social distancing orders are coming daily as the state, federal and local governments battle for the control of the COVID-19 pandemic. In many of the closure orders cannabis businesses fall within an “essential business” criteria and have been allowed to remain open and operational. This is particularly true regarding medicinal use and sale cannabis.

However with the new adult-use states, and where the production and sale of medicinal and adult-use cannabis are situated in the same facilities, adult-use advocates are pressuring local governments to include adult-use businesses in the category of essential. Whether medicinal or adult-use there are facility and workplace safety and health requirements (depending on your state) and recommendations when it comes to COVID-19.

RELATED: LOOKING FOR MORE COVID-19 COVERAGE? CLICK HERE FOR ADDITIONAL ANALYSIS

According to OSHA, COVID-19 is an OSHA recordable if the injury is traceable to a workplace exposure and is subject to workers compensation benefits. So for businesses remaining operational, it’s important to draft and implement a COVID-19 policy that includes at least the following:

Ask ALL non-essential employees to work from home if possible.

Implement and enforce criteria for daily employee health screenings. This could be done by employees at home before they come into work and then temperature screenings could take place as employees enter the workplace. Continue to monitor employees throughout work shifts and be prepared to shut down and isolate employees and work areas if someone exhibits symptoms.

Implement and enforce six-foot social distancing inside the workplace. This may require staggering work shifts or start times; or may require temporary cuts to a workforce.

Implement additional sanitation procedures for disinfecting worker hands, PPE, and surfaces regularly throughout the work shifts. This one comes with a warning, though: It’s important to obtain and fully read safety data sheets for all cleaning and disinfecting chemicals to be used. Mixing bleach with ammonia or some other acid can have devastating consequences. Some disinfectants and biocides also produce extremely irritating smells and vapors. Use with plenty of ventilation and protect your eyes, airways, and skin.

Implement and enforce strict PPE use, including wearing dust masks/respirators, gloves, and eye/face protection. If your employees regularly wear a dust mask or respirator, you must have an OSHA-compliant respiratory protection program in place, even for voluntary use. Anyone who wears a tight-fitting respirator (N-95 dust masks included) must be medically cleared to wear a respirator and should be fit-tested for a particular model and size of respirator. Remember, the types of disposable dust masks and surgical masks that are commonly used in cannabis cultivation and production are the same types that are used by medical professionals and are currently in critically short demand. Reuse disposable respirators whenever possible or use cleanable, elastomeric respirators. There is little risk for your employees to reuse disposable respirators, unlike the risk for medical professionals with direct contact to known COVID-19 victims.

Have a plan in place to isolate employees, work areas, and even product if an employee has become symptomatic. This could include a temporary loss of product and business.

It is likely that updates concerning the COVID-19 crisis will continue to arrive daily or even hourly. It is important for businesses, employers, employees, and the public to keep as up-to-date and ready to adapt and move as necessary for employee and public health.

Is this our new norm? How long will this last? Will I or my family members and friends become infected? Ultimately, we all have to make some very personal and important decisions on what each of us consider acceptable risks, and at the same time manage our fears and anxieties.

Continue to learn more in future articles in CLM’s Cannabis eNews as we examine audits of existing grow facilities and extraction laboratories, premises liabilities, and employee training.

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About The Authors
Jason Lang

Jason Lang of RHP Risk Management is a board-certified industrial hygienist (CIH) and certified safety professional (CSP) based in Chicago. He regularly works with local and national clients in the cannabis industry.  jlang@rhprisk.com

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