By: Grant Gilzean, Maureen B. Hodson & Gerald Hincka
As discussed in our first article in the series , adherence to Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) regulations are often overlooked due to misconceptions about the regulations applicability to the cannabis industry. But now that the importance of environmental compliance is understood, the next step is to envision the scope of your environmental compliance program. In this article, we discuss how your company should plan and envision its EHS program, and in our second part next week we will discuss how to implement your program.
The first step in the process of putting in place an EHS program to ensure compliance with relevant regulations is to envision what the program will look like, and what it will mean for your business. In this first step you will determine whether you want to pursue the gold standard of EHS programs or one that ticks all the boxes and is “good enough” from the perspective of the regulatory agencies. The cannabis industry is relatively young and growing at an astounding rate. Getting out in front of the competition to be a leader in EHS compliance and being an example the companies that follow could pay significant dividends. However, for companies that have fewer resources there are compliance solutions that are effective, can largely be established and carried out in-house, and will provide the minimum EHS compliance necessary to avoid violations and fines as long as they are revisited frequently.
For those companies in the industry with fewer resources, using a ready-made EHS program tailored to the applicable federal, state and local rules, establishing the operations manager as the EHS officer, using online training resources and ensuring frequent communications between employees and management on EHS concerns are some ways that a company can conserve resources and still be in compliance with all applicable rules. Consultation with a third party EHS specialist or qualified environmental counsel may be necessary to ensure all permits properly in place and to help create systems and checklists to ensure ongoing compliance upfront. However once established, ongoing third-party support EHS consultation is not always necessary to ensure compliance as long as operations do not significantly change.
Differentiating yourself as a company that goes above and beyond to protect its workers and the environment in the community could create significant goodwill and legitimacy with regulators, especially where the industry is often misunderstood and overly scrutinized. With such a program you can go from having a target on your back to being a company that regulators can trust will be in compliance. The marketing team will be thrilled to be able to put you on a panel discussing the ways in which you’ve led the industry in EHS compliance which can translate in to more sales, more opportunities and more growth.
A five-star showcase caliber EHS program goes above and beyond the bare minimum compliance requirements, and necessarily starts with putting together a comprehensive EHS program that addresses all points of compliance tailored not only to the cannabis industry but to your specific operations and growth areas. Such a program would include built in backup systems to ensure that human error does not result in compliance violations. The extra effort could include:
• hiring a dedicated EHS manager
• conducting monthly self-audits and annual third-party audits, track results and quickly resolve any issues that are identified
• establishing a safety committee committed to providing employees with weekly relevant and compulsory health and safety training
• developing job hazard assessments, and safe working procedures for each task within your facility
• creating proactive safety programs, employee assistance programs, and improving workplace ergonomics
• using as few hazardous substances as possible
• committing to minimal generation of wastewater, air emissions and hazardous waste
Under either approach, there are two key business objectives. First, maximize operational profitability by avoiding the significant cost risks of non-compliance with EHS requirements. Second, conduct EHS management in proactive, expert, efficient and whenever possible privileged/confidential manners through experienced legal and technical professionals. Our next blog post will cover how to best manage EHS compliance in keeping with those objectives.
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Maureen B. Hodson is a Portland, Oregon-based compliance specialist with over 15 years of experience advising clients on a wide range of environmental matters, including regulatory compliance in the areas of waste, air, and water and assessment of environmental risks in connection with complex business transactions in a wide variety of industries. Maureen holds a JD and Masters in Environmental Law from Vermont Law School.
Gerald Hincka is a Senior Consultant with EHS Support, LLC. He has more than 30 years of experience, specializing in the diagnosis, strategic evaluation and complete solution of environment-related business problems for clients around the world.