Trimmers are busy processing marijuana at the Livwell cultivation facility on August 13, 2015 in Denver. (Denver Post file)

Colorado puts new focus on worker safety in cannabis industry

For the first time, Colorado health officials have issued a set of guiding principles for marijuana businesses to address occupational health and hazards.

Workers in the cannabis industry, including budtenders, extraction technicians, trimmers and cultivators, are key figures in a report released Tuesday by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“Slips, trips and falls are hazards common to every industry, but the marijuana industry has special considerations,” Roberta Smith, manager of CDPHE’s Occupational Health Program, said in a statement. “For example, fires and explosions can occur during production of marijuana extracts and lead to fatal injuries.”

The nearly 80-page report identifies potential hazards unique to each job — including exposure to mold, pesticides, gases and even instances of workplace violence — and offers employers a set of recommended controls or best work practices in the “Guide to Worker Safety and Health in the Marijuana Industry.”

The guide was developed by the Colorado Marijuana Occupational Health and Safety Work Group, a more than 40-member committee with expertise in areas such as public health, safety, regulations and medicine. The guide’s suggestions are not meant to supplant existing regulations from the state or from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but instead help marijuana businesses create a program to benefit worker health and safety.

The state of Washington, which alongside Colorado voted in 2012 to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, was the first to develop formal guidance for the industry, according to the Colorado work group.

Other private-sector entities have started to take steps to adopt their own marijuana-specific regulations.

Last fall, the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association, which develops codes and standards for fire safety, included a chapter on marijuana grows and processing facilities in its NFPA 1, Fire Code manual.