On June 15, 2017, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) Standards Board met and decided that workplace hazards in the marijuana industry are adequately addressed by existing Title 8 regulations and that no new industry-specific regulations will be made at this time.
Prior to this decision, on October 25, 2016, Cal/OSHA held an advisory meeting to give the public an opportunity to identify workplace safety issues associated with cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, and sale of medical marijuana. In response to this meeting, on June 2, 2017, Cal/OSHA issued an advisory memorandum outlining workplace risks faced by employees working in the marijuana industry and concluding that there is not yet a need for industry-specific regulation.
Common Risks in the Marijuana Industry
Within the marijuana industry, there are a variety of work environments facing different sets of hazards. Workers harvesting marijuana outdoors face risks such as heat illness, exposure to pesticides, and field sanitation issues. Workers harvesting marijuana indoors face risks such as overexposure to carbon dioxide, overexposure to carbon monoxide, injuries caused by improperly wired equipment, and injuries caused by damaged electrical plugs and outlets. Both indoor and outdoor harvesting workers risk ergonomic issues due to the repetitive motions made while trimming marijuana plants. Manufacturing workers face exposure to flammable and chemical hazards, burning, scalding, trips, falls, lack of personal protective equipment, and use of machinery. Customer service employees risk violence due to the prevalence of cash transactions.
The marijuana industry is currently governed by existing Title 8 regulations. These regulations are capable of mitigating many of the risks faced by marijuana industry employees. For example, employers in the marijuana industry are required to implement and maintain an effective Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP). An effective IIPP program would serve to make sure that employees are properly trained to avoid accidents and employers are made aware of all risks in their facilities.
Likewise, marijuana industry employers can protect their outdoor harvesting employees by complying with Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention Standard and providing employees with sufficient water and shade. Employers are also required to implement and maintain a hazard communication program, which can serve to protect indoor harvesting employees from chemical hazards.
Lastly, to prevent violent incidents due to cash transactions customary within the marijuana industry, employers can comply with the Cal/OSHA guidelines for workplace security as part of their IIPP until Cal/OSHA develops a workplace violence prevention standard applicable to general industries.
California’s marijuana industry has recently undergone, and will continue to undergo, rapid growth in the coming years. The Cal/OSHA Standards Board’s decision takes into consideration that, if incidents occur despite compliance with the current Title 8 regulations, industry-specific regulations may be needed in the future to protect marijuana industry employees. Until then, employers may want to review existing regulations and comply fully in order to reduce the likelihood of workplace accidents. Lack of knowledge of an existing regulation is not a defense against a Cal/OSHA citation.
Kevin D. Bland is a shareholder in the Orange County office of Ogletree Deakins.
Tiffany Yim is a law student participating in the summer associate program in the Orange County office of Ogletree Deakins.