Even though cannabis businesses are not federally supported, they still must adhere and comply to all federal laws and regulations for protecting their employees. Under the Occupational Safety and Health law, employers have a responsibility and obligation to provide a safe workplace.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is now very active in Colorado and other states where cannabis is legally sold. As many weed businesses have grown rapidly and mostly unchecked, compliance with OSHA is critical for a cannabis business to survive. Fines and citations proposed from OSHA are usually significant and can often close down businesses that are unable to absorb the financial impact.

Here are the top 5 OSHA Infractions observed via the Adherence SCORE App in 2016:

  1. The facility does not have a written Hazard Communication Plan that describes how it achieves compliance with: 1) labels on hazardous containers; 2) MSDSs for all chemicals and pesticides; and 3) hazardous chemical training for employees.
  2. All relevant employees have not been trained on hazardous materials in use at the facility prior to their initial work assignment and when new hazards are introduced, and documented as required.
  3. The facility does not have required OSHA documentation related to workplace injury, OSHA Form 300, or Form 301 if injuries have occurred, on file.
  4. The facility does not have a formal fire prevention plan (written with more than 10 employees) that addresses major hazards in the facility, accumulation of waste material, maintenance of heat-producing equipment and names and titles of employees responsible for various parts of the plan.
  5. Required Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has not been evaluated and documented, along with associated training plans and verification for employees.

Recent OSHA Fines and Citations Proposed

Once OHSA becomes involved in an incident, the facility can be expected to have repeated inspections from the agency for the foreseeable future. Each visit can reveal additional infractions and potential OSHA citations. Ensuring strong compliance and an effective Hazard Communication Plan up front, along with documented training processes can save a business hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, compliance and legal costs. Below are a few examples of OSHA citations and penalties. Many of these types of infractions are often found during compliance inspections at cannabis businesses:

  • Blocked exits and exit routes, fire extinguisher locations not marked, electrical panels blocked: $156,772
  • Investigated fire at facility, failed to maintain working fire extinguishers: $87,297
  • Failure to guard electrical devices, provide standard railing and handrails, lack of an effective Hazard Communication Plan, exposing employees to electrical hazards, allowing build-up of combustible materials: $214,633
  • Failing to report employee illness, exposing workers to infectious bacteria, failure to complete OSHA Form 301, failure to record injury or illness within seven (7) calendar days of occurrence, failure to provide requested records within four business hours: $1.9 million

Once citations from OSHA are received, businesses have 15 days to comply and may be called to an independent OSHA Review Commission meeting. Start by preparing for OSHA inspections today.

How Can You Prepare?

The most viable, low-cost option is to hire a reputable 3rd party compliance inspection company to review overall compliance and support your internal team. The process should be automated and provide a detailed compliance report to track and monitor areas of compliance. Additionally, businesses should strive to comply with record keeping, reporting, and poster requirements. Any areas where these items are missing or lacking usually requires a deeper inspection where additional infractions may be uncovered. One infraction often leads to another.

OSHA does offer an On-Site Consultation Program for free and confidential safety and occupational health advice to small and medium-sized businesses in all states across the country. Consultation services are separate from enforcement and do not result in fines or penalties. Availability is limited, and access to services may vary from location to location.

Reducing workplace injuries and illnesses can help improve your bottom line, get ahead of the coming compliance curve in cannabis, and prepare for all federal, state, county, and city regulatory inspectors as soon as possible. Your business may depend on it.

This article was reposted from Cannabis Business Executive. Original publish date is 09/29/16 by Steve Owens