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January 03, 2019
Marijuana processor cited for explosion that left worker badly burned

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) cited a marijuana producer for a workplace explosion in which an employee suffered burns. As the marijuana industry takes hold in states allowing recreational marijuana use, state agencies are taking steps to ensure compliance with worker safety and health standards.

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An employee of the company was working alone June 19, 2018, inside a 128-square-foot portable storage container, using propane to extract oil from cannabis leaves.

The propane ignited, causing an explosion that badly burned the worker. He was hospitalized for several days following the incident.

Cal/OSHA’s investigation found that the employer failed to test the atmosphere inside the container for flammable gases or vapors before allowing equipment to be operated, according to an agency statement. The equipment used in processing marijuana created a spark, igniting the propane gas.

Cal/OSHA cited the company with 10 violations, proposing fines totaling $50,470.

Serious violations cited in the incident include failures to:

  • Protect employees working near flammable vapors,
  • Identify hazards,
  • Supply personal protective equipment, and
  • Maintain equipment in a safe operating condition.

The state workplace safety and health agency also issued citations for violations related to inadequate safety training, failure to establish an emergency action plan and hazard communication program. Cal/OSHA also cited the company for failing to report a serious workplace injury to the agency.

In a statement, Cal/OSHA Chief Juliann Sum encouraged the marijuana processing industry to take steps to protect workers.

“The process of using a highly flammable gas to extract oil from cannabis leaves is dangerous,” according to Sum.

“To prevent injuries and mitigate risk, employers in the cannabis industry must establish and implement an effective Injury and Illness Prevention Program, provide effective training to their employees and comply with safety and health standards,” she said.

Cal/OSHA industry guidance

All California employers are required to prepare Injury and Illness Prevention Programs (IIPPs)—a point that Cal/OSHA emphasizes on its Cannabis Industry Health and Safety topic webpage.

The industry includes cultivation, manufacturing, and retail sectors. Cal/OSHA suggests several state standards, in addition to IIPPs, may apply to the industry, including:

  • Electrical Hazards;
  • Exposures to Airborne Contaminants;
  • Flammable Liquids and Gases;
  • Hazard Communication;
  • Hazardous Energy—Lockout/Tagout;
  • Heat Illness Prevention;
  • Machine Hazards;
  • Personal Protective Equipment;
  • Point of Operation Hazards;
  • Pressure Vessels;
  • Prohibition of Smoking in the Workplace;
  • Repetitive Motion Injuries;
  • Sanitation and Pest Control; and
  • Slips, Trips, Falls, and Use of Ladders.

Washington safety and health resources

The Washington Department of Labor and Industries, Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) also has posted a cannabis industry safety and health topic page to its website. General and specific standards under the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act of 1973 may apply to marijuana growers, processors, and retailers.

“Producing marijuana concentrate can involve hazards from compressed gases, flammable solvents, screening and pressing, and dry ice,” DOSH points out on its website.

“Employers must identify these hazards and keep workers safe from them,” according to the Washington safety and health agency.

The agency further points out that manufacturing edible products from cannabis extracts poses additional hazards to workers, including the following:

  • Burns and scalds;
  • Cuts and amputations from knives and slicers;
  • Electrical shock or fires from bad wiring and damaged electrical plugs, cords, or outlets;
  • Hazardous contact with cleaning and sanitizing chemicals; and
  • Slips, trips, and falls due to slippery floors and poor housekeeping.

State governments are not alone in insisting that marijuana growers, processors, and retailers comply with established worker safety and health regulations. The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) and Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) have cautioned the burgeoning marijuana industry to manage readily identifiable hazards and comply with longstanding worker safety and health standards.

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