There’s been a lot of talk about cannabis in the workplace and the ramifications legalized weed will have on the workforce in all industries but  not much has been said about the responsibilities of the licensed producers under the Occupational Health & Safety Act (OH&S Act) to protect t their own workers within their facilities.

As the legalization of the cannabis industry nears, licensed marijuana producers must prioritize the requirements under the OH&S Act.

With the explosion of the cannabis industry, producers will be hiring a staggering amount of workers, with a lot of them being brand new in the field, now is the time to ensure they are all formerly trained under the OH&S Act.

The question of whose responsibility it is to ensure health and safety of employees is complex since everyone is responsible for their health and safety and also the health & safety of their coworkers.

As an employer, it is ultimately your responsibility to ensure that you are doing everything reasonably possible to protect your workers safety while at your workplace. This includes, but not limited to, following all the regulations in the OH&S Act from the Ministry of Labour (MOL).

Employees are an important asset of any business; they execute the mission and the goals of the business. In fact, health and safety hazards if not checked are expensive for a business since they translate to extra costs in the form of medical bills to the affected, lost production, higher WSIB costs and more. OH&S Act contains regulations to guide the health and safety standards that all employers must observe and follow.

You’re required to prioritize health and safety in all the business decisions you make such as purchasing of new equipment, allocation of duties and responsibilities.

As an employer, accidents occurring in the workplace are deemed the employer's responsibility. It is therefore important for you to not only seek to comply with health and safety regulations but also ensure you meet your health and safety responsibilities towards your employees.

Below are some of the ways to provide health and safety for employees.

  • Develop health & safety policies & programs. These are the safety rules and regulations that you enact to be operational to your businesses and which the employees will be required to follow during their work practice. For instance, you could make it mandatory for employees to wear Personal Protective Clothing (PPE) whenever they are working.
  • Make sure your Joint Health & Safety Committee (JHSC) or Health & Safety Representative (H&S Rep) is in place and functioning. These are groups or individuals within the workforce who will be tasked with evaluating the safety standards within the workplace. The JHSC or H&S Rep will also interact with the employees and gather information on what measures would make for a safer workplace or a potential hazard in the workplace.
    • Business with 6-19 workers require a H&S Representative
    • Businesses with 20-49 workers require a JHSC made up of a minimum of 1 worker rep and 1 management rep, both must be certified
    • Businesses with 50+ workers require a JHSC made up with a minimum of 2 management reps and 2 worker reps, half of whom must be certified
  • Invest in training. Training is important since it allows employees to be versed in the working environment. As an employer you must ensure that all new hires complete the mandatory Worker or Supervisor Safety Awareness training as well as ongoing training as necessary.
  • You should regularly conduct risk assessments of your premises and equipment to establish whether the employers are safe in using them.
  • Your workplace must be inspected on a regular basis. These inspections are carried out by the worker rep on the JHSC or by your H&S Rep and documented.
  • You must inform the employees of the risks & hazards in the workplace and also inform them of the steps you have taken to mitigate such risks
  • JHSC or H&S Reps should consult with the employees to determine their health and safety issues or concerns to determine whether their health or safety will be affected by the working conditions in the workplace such as chemicals or repetitive motions

Southern Ontario hosts some of the largest licensed marijuana producers in Canada. The employees in this industry remain exposed to health and safety hazards such as Molds, Allergens, chemical gases, indoor air quality, lighting, electrocution, slips, trips & falls, fall arrest and accidents from working equipment.

Health Safety against Molds

Mold exposure to employees in high quantity leads to respiratory complications especially for in-house marijuana growing. As an employer, ensure that all employees working in your facility wear proper protective clothing and respirator’s properly tested and fitted. Besides, it’s important to train employees the need to keep wearing protective equipment at all times within the premises. The following measures should be implemented to prevent employee exposure to molds

  • Ensure all employees are trained on how to use Personal Protective Equipment’s (PPE) effectively such as respirators.
  • Ensure that Respirator Fit Tests are conducted every 2 years for all industries except healthcare, which must be done every year.
  • Use engineering controls to avoid exposure to mold such as vacuuming as opposed to sweeping.
  • Employ moisture control techniques such as water intrusion control for areas prone to flooding within the facility

Forklifts (Industrial lift trucks)

Forklifts are widely used in industries for ferrying products from one point to the other. While they are helpful, they are also a source of safety hazards if left unchecked. As an employer you have the responsibility of ensuring the forklifts are fit for operation and only operated by workers that have been trained and proven competent to minimize risks of accidents.

The following measures are essential to observe.

  • Training and evaluation of operators; you must ensure that no forklift operator is allowed to operate the machinery without prerequisite training to establish their competency.
    • Operators must complete the classroom theory as well as a Competecny Evaluation at the workplace to ensure operators are competent. This must be done every 3 years.
  • You must ensure that workers are performing daily preshift inspections before operating. Forklifts must also be inspected on a yearly basis from a third party.
    • Workers must have a system in place to report any defects that they may find while conducting their preshift inspection. This must be documented daily and kept in your records.
  • Ensure the forklifts are fitted with seatbelts; seatbelts prevent operators from being ejected from the seat during a tip which could result in a serious injury or death.
  • Also as the employer, you should ensure that the forklifts are only used in designated areas that meet the manufacturer's safety instructions such as on level surfaces indoors if so indicated.
  • Enforce policies that compel employees to drive forklifts at the stipulated speeds and while wearing protective clothing such as a hard hat and footwear.
  • The path upon which the forklifts are driven should be clear; you should train the employees to ensure no obstructions are on the track.
  • It’s also important to train those pedestrians who do not operate the forklift, but who work in the same area, so they know the procedures when working around moving forklifts.
  • Ensure that the forklift only carries the weight indicated by the manufacturer. Where employees overload, the forklifts accidents may happen such as overturning or spills that may injure the driver and coworkers.
  • You should ensure that the floors upon which the forklifts operate are dry and free from debris.

Fall Protection & Aerial Lift/Elevated Work Platform

In Ontario, if any worker is working at a height of 3 metres or more, they must use the proper fall protection equipment such as harnesses, lanyards, anchor points etc.

Each worker that works at a height exceeding 3 metres must also go through the formal Fall Arrest training provided by a reputable training provider.

If any workers are using an Aerial Lift or elevated work platform, they not only have to have proper Fall Arrest training, but the must have proper Aerial Lift training and a Competency Evaluation, similar to forklifts, to prove they are competent to operate the machine. This can also be provided by a reputable third party training provider.

Aerial Lift operators must complete the classroom theory as well as a Competency Evaluation every 3 years.


Electrical Hazards

Licensed marijuana growing and extraction operations for large manufacturers require enormous amounts of energy. Electrical hazards are therefore likely in this environment; they may range from extension cords, faulty circuit breakers, fans, sockets, and bulbs. Besides, the humid environment may be cause for short-circuiting.  You should ensure that the following electrical safety measures are observed.

  • Employees using electrical tools are equipped with protective safety classes and relevant PPE.
  • Only use CSA approved equipment in the workplaces
  • Electrical work should be done on dry areas to prevent short-circuiting, where electrical work is being done on humid areas, the electricity should be turned off.
  • Extensions and electric outputs should not be overloaded since it could lead to an electrical hazard.
  • Aged wires and those that appear deteriorated should be replaced as soon as discovered.
  • Only employees with electrical training should be allowed to handle electrical wiring in the industries.

Ergonomics health and safety

Marijuana production practices are causes for employee overexertion due to the onward postures, repeated motions and high hand forces presented during trimming of marijuana.

As an employer you must ensure the employees remain physically fit and healthy for them to be productive. You should, therefore, seek to implement ergonomic principles that mitigate these hazards, principles you should employ include but not limited to;

  • Employ job rotation for the employees into jobs that require the use of different postures
  • Encourage and involve employees in worksite assessment and solution development ergonomic issues that may arise in the workplace.
  • Provide the matching tools for each designated task for each employee.
  • You should ensure tables and chairs used in the facilities are adjustable to accommodate the employees of different body sizes.

Walking and Working Surfaces

While slips trips and fall accidents are the most common form of accident in workplaces, it’s your responsibility to take steps that minimizes the occurrence of such accidents. The following are some of the measures you should consider;

  • Ensure the floors and passageways are kept clean and dry, where wet processes are involved, mats and dry standing places should be provided.
  • Mandatory to use ‘wet floor signs’ in areas that have just been mopped or where a spill has taken place.
  • Provide proper lighting in the facility to illuminate irregular paths and dark areas to prevent employee’s tripping and falling.
  • Keep all areas where workers walk clean and free from debris that could cause a tripping hazard.
  • Elevated working floors of over 4 feet should be fitted with guardrails on all sides.
  • Fall protection equipment must be used properly for all workers working at a height of 3 metres or more.

Lighting  Hazards

Employees exposed to UV radiation in licensed marijuana producers facilities may experience Photokeratitis or ultraviolet keratitis which are eye problems for those working indoors with UV lights, and exposure to the sun for those employees working outdoors.

Ensure that your employees are provided with hats, sunscreen, and glasses for those working outdoors; workers working indoors where extra UV lighting has been used should be provided with clothing that completely covers their skin to prevent exposure and proper UV protected safety glasses.

You should also ensure that the outer bulb in the metal halide lamps which serves to reduce UV light to nominal levels is intact.

You should also observe the following practices;

  • Explore the availability of safer lighting alternative to metal halides.
  • Observe the protection glasses are rated in line with UV wavelength.
  • Observe electrical practices in the changing of UV light bulbs and that qualified employees do such electrical work.

Air quality Safety hazard

Employees working indoors in marijuana production facilities can be affected by poor air quality due to the immense ozone gases produced by chemical reactions.

Carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide are released from equipment such as forklifts and water compressors and from chemical processes used in extraction using liquefied carbon dioxide.

To protect employees from the toxic air, you must install well maintained and calibrated monitors and alarm systems across the facility to monitor gas levels. Employees must never be allowed to use liquid carbon dioxide in confined space, and even then it must be used by employees wearing Personal protective equipment.

Pesticides are causes for health hazards and employees tasked with applying pesticides and fungicides must be provided with safety data sheets and Personal Protective Equipment that include respirators.

It is also imperative for you to use proper ventilation within the facility. Such ventilation systems should also be kept in good working conditions and replaced immediately when found to be faulty.

Emergency preparedness

Workplace emergency operations can strike at any time, when they occur they are a threat to workers, the public and may lead to closure of businesses. Emergency preparedness is therefore a crucial part of the workplace health safety policy and program.

For employers they include strategies you put in place to ensure your company and employees are safe before during and after the occurrence of either a natural or a manmade disaster.  Some of the emergency preparations you should make are;

  • Determine emergencies that may occur either towards the facilities and also establish possible human-made and natural disasters.
  • Establish a clear chain of command with an employee(s) charged with overseeing the evacuation.
  • Devise evacuation procedures and meeting points such as exit routes assembly points, provide equipment necessary during; ie., first aid kits and fire extinguishers. While planning for exit routes, you should ensure they are clear and can accommodate a large number of evacuees.
  • Ensure that alarms and fire suppression equipment’s are in good working conditions and regularly serviced and maintained.
  • Ensure that a fire evacuation map, that includes a meeting area outside the facility, is posted in multiple locations where workers are most likely to see it on a daily basis.
  • Create a plan of assisting employees with disabilities to evacuate and accounting of their safety after evacuation.

Hazard communication plan

Communication is among employers responsibilities of providing your employees health and safety. With your company dealing with a myriad of hazardous chemicals it is essential for you to enact a hazard communication program. The following are steps on how to implement an effective hazard communication plan;

  • Establish a written hazard communication program. Your JHSC member or H&S Rep would be tasked with implementing and maintaining the program.
  • Ensure all containers in the workplace are clearly labeled with the name of the chemical, hazard warnings, everything required under WHMIS 2015.
  • Maintain safety data sheets (SDS)- Safety Data Sheets are prepared documents that contain information about all the chemicals in the facility such as storage information, usage information, and first aid information in case of accidents. You should make these safety data sheets readily available to employees for reference.
  • Training of employees in WHMIS 2015- before assigning any task employees must be trained on how to use the chemicals and workers should be apprised whenever a new compound is introduced.
  • Evaluation of the program- Hazard communication programs must be continuously updated to the current information to account for the addition of the new chemical or changing conditions.

Employers and employees must be meticulous in following and monitoring health and safety policies and programs that contribute towards developing a positive corporate health & safety culture. Besides the emphasis on training, health and safety of your employees serves to reduce injuries and consequently increase productivity.

A bad working environment is demoralizing to employees who will be compelled to focus more towards their own safety as opposed to executing tasks and meeting production goals.

Failure to implement occupational health and safety programs can be detrimental to your company since it may result in costly on the spot fines, court issued fines brought by the MOL, higher WSIB premiums, stop work orders, lost production, re-training costs and more.

Although the above points are just some of the responsibilities of not only licensed marijuana producers, but also most other industries out there, this is just a brief overview of some of the most important points when it comes to protecting your workers health & safety. Every company must do their own due diligence to determine the necessary steps they must take for their own specific situation. This article in no way represents legal advice, as each company should seek legal or safety advice relevant to their own circumstances.

If you have any questions or concerns about you current H&S system, or lack thereof, contact a reputable Chief Prevention Offer approved training provider such as BULLIVANT Health + Safety and get those questions and concerns addressed quickly. We’ve been helping to protect thousands of Ontario workers for over 23 years.