Oregon’s State Accident Insurance Fund started thinking about the wellbeing of cannabis workers in 2014, the moment the Beaver State passed Measure 91 legalizing cannabis.
SAIF’s Judi Croft, safety services supervisor at the nonprofit insurance provider, explains, “Our vision, mission and charter is to keep people safe, and make workers’ comp as available to as many industries as possible, as affordably as possible. Once [the cannabis] industry became legal, we immediately asked ourselves if we were ready.”
Croft oversees a team of safety management consultants who work with small businesses. Because most cannabis businesses fall into the small-business category, by default Croft’s team was tasked with getting self-educated on the burgeoning industry, which involved visiting remote outdoor grows and extraction labs to get to know different environments and identify what could possibly go wrong on the job.
In our exclusive interview, Croft tells us what you need to know about insurance policies for your cannabiz; gives insight into keeping everyone safe, from budtenders to trimmers; and how writing cannabis policy turned out much easier than expected.
BigBudsMag: So even though dispensaries and growers can’t open a checking account in Oregon, they can have workers’ comp insurance?
Judi Croft: Marijuana-related companies can apply for this insurance, just like any other. Like car insurance, you pick where you want to go. Workers’ comp is a more complicated type of insurance that people don’t think about until someone gets injured on the job. We want everyone to come home at the end of the day in the same, or better, condition than when they left for work.
BBM: If a grow op only employs a handful of people, is it still worth the cost of the insurance policy?
JC: We care about safety, but people aren’t typically excited about it when starting a business. They want to run a company that brings in profit. But if you have employees that are skilled and trustworthy, you don’t want to lose them.
BBM: What were some of the early obstacles when crafting your first cannabis insurance policies?
JC: The initial concern on our end was whether our underwriting processes could obtain enough information to approve voluntary insurance for cannabis-related businesses. But once we got to know the [rules of the] Oregon Liquor Control Commission [the agency in charge of the recreational cannabis program in Oregon], we felt confident that we could get enough information to make a decision we could stand by. They’re some of the most detailed security and surveillance requirements within any industry, so we can trust that any licensed [cannabis producer] has been thoroughly vetted.
BBM: Was it difficult to familiarize yourselves with methods and procedures when growers and processors — who might be more accustomed to the industry’s previous black or gray market designation — are used to keeping their business practices as private as possible?
JC: It helped to be welcomed with open arms by people who wanted our help. We were invited to all types of businesses and people were happy to answer our questions. It’s one thing to read the rules, it’s another thing to go out and meet the faces in the industry, and ask them in person, “What do you need?” “What do you need to make your place safer for employees?” Our safety consultants look at processes, and then we’ve had a certified industrial hygienist, who covers more of the technical side of air quality and chemical use, go out to learn more about extractors.
BBM: What are common safety hazards in the industry?
JC: We often see ladder injuries, and as silly as it might sound, it’s a huge issue within the agriculture industry, and those falls typically don’t end well. At an outdoor grow you’ve got uneven ground, and indoor grows often have concrete floors with potential for slips, trips and falls. For workers during harvest, using the wrong tools or trimming so long that it’s causing fatigue can lead to injury.
BBM: With the continued stories of butane hash oil (BHO) labs exploding and concentrates with dangerous solvent residue, did insurance policies for extractors prove more challenging?
JC: We follow through with the state and OLCC rules, making sure they’re good, clean systems and the employees are aware of training and hazards for each machine. The rules make it straightforward. They’re static about what types of systems must be used, and the [recreational] application gets the answers we need about solvents, chemical safety protocol, and whether the employees are properly trained. At this point, we’ve written policies for every type of marijuana license, and we’ve only seen 2–3 minor claims in the past year.
BBM: Do you see Oregon setting a precedent for other legal states and soon-to-be-legal states to follow in regard to cannabis insurance policies?
JC: Each state [with legal cannabis laws] is going about legalization in their own way, so the policies will work differently, depending on regulation. Some states will have an easier time — for others it won’t be as simple. But Oregon’s industry is uniquely sophisticated, with a medical program dating back to 1998. I think other states can learn from what Oregon does, and at least see a way of doing things safely.
BBM: Finally, do you have any simple advice for newly licensed cannabis companies, regardless of the legal state they’re in?
JC: On the OLCC marijuana webpage, there’s a Business Readiness Guidebook. It has everything that a business needs to think about, whether you’ll be medical or recreational. It’s a great thing for anyone who’s wondered if they missed anything. Best part is, it’s free. I wish every industry had a guidebook like that. Oregon OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Division] also has plenty of resources for people who need an infrastructure, and we offer agriculture safety seminars to anyone, regardless of what you’re growing.