News and Best Practices

New Fire Guidelines To Increase Employee Safety

December 20, 2016

The cannabis industry deals with constantly changing regulations, and the focus of these regulations is typically public safety. But a new set of guidelines, arriving late next year, will have the goal of protecting company employees.

When working with production and processing apparatus—such as CO2 and extraction equipment—employees may be at risk from potential fires, explosions, reduced oxygen levels and other hazardous conditions. Over the past few years, grow operations, processing facilities and retail stores have experienced a rash of equipment-related fires and explosions.

A task force of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)—a nonprofit organization with more than 50,000 members worldwide—recently voted to draft guidelines for the industry, with safety policies designed for cannabis processors, cultivators and retailers.

Today, most fire code and safety regulations largely consist of regulations developed for other industries, and these are being applied inconsistently to the cannabis industry. The NFPA recognized the industry’s unique hazards and aimed to reduce those risks. So, a task force of industry leaders, fire officials and equipment manufacturers helped create guidelines and standards to prioritize safety.

The new NFPA guidelines

The cannabis industry can expect its own chapter in the 2018 edition of the NFPA 1 code, which will be available in late 2017. While these proposals are more like guidelines, it’s possible that they’ll become mandatory as states, cities, counties and other jurisdictions adopt them.

In a recent issue of NFPA Journal, Kristin Bigda, principal fire protection engineer at NFPA and staff liaison for NFPA 1, said, “A lot of jurisdictions are looking for guidance and they need something now. At the same time, I think the industry also wants regulation.”

Adoption is more likely to occur right away in Colorado because of the input on the NFPA guidelines from industry professionals in the state. Since Colorado has been considered by many as a leader in the cannabis industry, it’s almost certain that other states will follow suit with adoption of these safety guidelines.

What’s in the guidelines

The new NFPA guidelines for cannabis will address extraction materials, process hazards, fire protection systems, inspection, permitting processes, code requirements suggestions and enforcement practices to aid in creating proper fire codes. The guidelines hope to address some of the following issues:

All businesses
• Electrical code compliance to reduce electrical fires
• Proper ventilation and exhaust systems
• Standby power systems for lighting, ventilation, smoke and gas detection
• Signage that alerts employees of hazards in a room
• Ingress and egress methods; when a fire occurs, employees can safely exit and firefighters can enter, while also taking into consideration security requirements

Specific to cultivation and processing facilities
• Fumigation and pesticide application
• Air monitoring systems that sound an alarm when flammable gas levels are found and/or when CO2 levels are present
• Proper installation and maintenance of machines
• Staffing and training on proper use of solvents and machines
• Solvents that are used in extraction
• Documentation that enables employees and inspectors to assess the equipment and the correlating code requirements, with particular attention to extraction machines

While these new fire safety guidelines may initially mean a rise in costs to adhere to them, the NFPA hopes to pave the way for standards and improve employee safety.

By Devon Landis, Esq.
Dispensary Management Today articles are for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal guidance or advice on dispensary operations. You should contact an attorney or a qualified cannabis consultant for specific compliance and dispensary/retailing advice.
© 2016 CAN Performance Group, LLC. All rights reserved.
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