The Canadian cannabis production industry is growing fast. In 2019 alone, the industry grew by 68% and generated $3 billion in revenue.*
It's an environment faced with evolving technology and equipment, and unique hazards such as skin reaction to cannabis oil, sensitization to cannabis dust and mould and extended exposure to ultraviolet light. There's also the challenge of a novice workforce that must pick up skills quickly. In a world where everything is new and different, how are growers managing health and safety? And what can other industries learn from them?
WSPS Occupational Hygienist Kelly Fernandes has witnessed the health and safety pressures firsthand, and regularly assists these businesses in managing them. We asked Kelly what other industries can take away from the experiences of their counterparts in the cannabis industry. Here's what she had to say:
- Know what hazards are present in your workplace and are common to your industry sector. If these hazards aren't present now, they may be in future. For example, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) typically develop over time, as do occupational allergies and illnesses.
- Learn everything you can about the hazards you have identified and how to control them. Are your existing controls sufficient? Have you completed sampling to verify that your engineering controls are sufficient? Can you implement other controls that reduce handling and exposure?
- Apply the hierarchy of controls, starting with elimination - in the design phase, if possible. Use personal protective equipment only as a last resort.
- Keep up with regulatory changes, such as recent amendments to O. Reg. 833, Control of Exposure to Biological or Chemical Agents, and O. Reg. 490, Designated Substances, by signing up for WSPS' Legislation Tracker. It's free.
- Bear in mind that legislated compliance requirements are minimum standards. Aim higher. Consider participating in the new WSIB Health and Safety Excellence program or adopting a management systems approach.
- Be prepared to act quickly if new hazards emerge. Keep on top of new controls that may be more efficient and cost effective.
- Don't reinvent the wheel. There are many free resources that you can adapt to your workplace. For example, WSPS' online Small Business Centre has downloadable health and safety policy and procedure templates for businesses of different sizes.
- Engage all employees. Provide them with the training and awareness they need to fulfil their roles under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Involve them in hazard assessments and listen to their concerns. They have insights from doing their jobs every day that you may not have, and can often suggest simple, actionable ways to improve health and safety.
- Document everything - chemical inventory list, handling procedures, training records, Safety Data Sheets, etc. Government inspectors have every right to walk into your facility without advance notice and ask to see your records.
- Tap into your health and safety community so that you can keep up with changing requirements, find out about new resources, and get access to best practices. Join industry groups and attend conferences, including WSPS Safety Connection sessions. These free two-hour sessions feature a presentation on a timely topic, and include time to network, exchange ideas and share best practices.
WSPS offers workplaces a wide range of ongoing support in managing health and safety - free downloads, on-site and classroom training, eCourses, consulting services, and much more. Check it out at www.wsps.ca.
* Cannabis Production in Canada - Market Research Report, IBISWorld, www.ibisworld.com/canada/market-research-reports/cannabis-production-industry/