Colorado Health and Ag Departments Hosting First Marijuana Employee Safety Course

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The Colorado Department of Agriculture, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Occupational Safety and Health Association are teaming up to host a health-and-safety course for marijuana employees this summer, as the industry continues to grow and add more workers.

No, this isn't anything like Steven Seagal training an Arizona posse on gun safety in schools – something that actually happened – but a chance for employers and employees in a unique industry to receive safety training from nationally recognized authorities. The seven-hour course will be held on Wednesday, June 28, at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, and will focus on such issues as fire hazards and safety challenges in similar businesses, as well as factors specific to the federally illegal industry, such as cannabis pesticide application.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released a guide for marijuana workplace safety in February; this class will be a broad overview of that document. "The intention with publishing the guidelines was to have some kind of followup to increase awareness for those in the marijuana industry, and for employers and workers to understand and develop a safety program in their workplace," says Roberta Smith, manager of the CDPHE Health Program.

Commercial operations now require more oversight than in 2014, when retail marijuana businesses first opened.
Commercial operations now require more oversight than in 2014, when retail marijuana businesses first opened.
Lindsey Bartlett

The guidelines are built around a compilation of regulations in similar industries that groups like the Environmental Protection Agency and OSHA have already implemented, and are nothing new to state and federal agencies, Smith adds. The guidelines took two years to draft, she says, with input from industry stakeholders and safety groups like OSHA. "Some of that stuff can be confusing no matter what industry you're in, but this is more geared to marijuana," she says.

Colorado's burgeoning commercial marijuana sector has faced its fair share of health-related issues since retail dispensaries opened in 2014. There have been over eighty cannabis recalls by the City of Denver alone since March 2015, when the Denver Department of Environmental Health began reprimanding commercial cultivators for using banned or unlabeled pesticides.

Governor John Hickenlooper issued an executive order in November 2015 directing Colorado state agencies to "address threats to public safety posed by marijuana contaminated by pesticide," banning the use of off-label pesticides and applications of pesticides inconsistent with EPA label directions.

The class will show industry members what federal regulations apply to cultivating marijuana and the worker-protection obligations that employers have under the law, according to an invite sent by the CDPHE; workers will learn about proper hazard communication, respiratory protection, machine guarding and ergonomics programs.

Smith hopes that the CDPHE can hold future classes that dive deeper into certain industry issues and provide platforms to train workers around the state, and suggests that online courses could be in the works. "We definitely want additional training down the road," she says.

The class will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 28 in the Bushnell Auditorium at the Anschutz Medical Campus, 13001 East 17th Place in Aurora. Registration is $25 and includes lunch; register for the CDPHE program here.

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