Fire Safety Lessons From the Marijuana Business in Colorado

Posted in blog on March 7, 2017

As Colorado’s legal marijuana industry ramps up, many other states look to Colorado to set an example for their own future regulations and laws. Legalized industries face the scrutiny of state, local, and federal officials regarding safety and ethics. In light of the industry changes, the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) created a task force to develop a new chapter in the fire code for marijuana facilities. When finished, largely with help from Colorado industry experts, the chapter will set a foundation for how marijuana businesses protect their facilities from the threat of fire.

The Marijuana Industry Takes Off in Colorado

According to an article in the NFPA Journal, fire officials in Boulder have helped young pot businesses come a long way. In 2009, many entrepreneurs created their spaces with little thought for fire safety. Fire hazards, including tangled wires, unsafe extension cords, and non-compliant locks, and fire-friendly finishes, filled warehouses, manufacturing facilities, and office spaces.

In addition to these relatively common fire hazard violations, officials noticed more disturbing patterns. Many growers use elevated carbon dioxide levels and other chemicals to spur plant growth. However, they were not using appropriate permits, signs, or protections. These careless activities not only raised the risk for the businesses themselves, they also increased the risk of exposure to nearby businesses. With barred windows and noncompliant locks, employees couldn’t get out and fire fighters couldn’t get in during an emergency.

Over time, fire officials began to learn about the marijuana industry and made actionable recommendations to marijuana business owners. Learning as they went, the early days of enforcement and education were shaky. With the adoption of new, industry-specific codes, businesses will have the answers they need to maintain compliance and protect their properties.

Lessons Learned From the Marijuana Business in Colorado

The fast-growing nature of the marijuana business highlights the importance for regulatory consistency in new industries. Without safety regulations, businesses put themselves and others at risk. Consider some of the fire safety lessons all businesses can learn from the fire officials’ experiences in Colorado:

  • Collaboration is key. While many businesses hate the necessity of code compliance, the codes exist to protect people and businesses. Marijuana businesses could protect their burgeoning businesses better if they collaborated with local officials from the beginning. Working with local officials will not only reduce the risk of non-compliance, it gives business owners more power over the code-creation process. Give fire officials the information they need to adequately regulate the industry.
  • New marijuana businesses need to comply to receive fire department support. In Boulder City, officials continue to struggle with compliance. As a result, they decided not to enter marijuana facilities in the event of a fire. Fire codes also exist to protect firefighters who put their lives at risk in burning buildings. Legal marijuana businesses around the country may want to focus on compliance to protect their assets from fire damage.
  • Some basic fire safety planning will go a long way. To avoid regulatory fines and major overhauls in the future, businesses can implement basic safety standards from day one. Remedying electrical hazards, for example, is simple and cost-effective. Small considerations along the way reduce the need for major changes in the future.
  • Safety often goes hand in hand with productivity. Businesses that invest in safety can improve workplace efficiency and reduce the risk of on-the-job injuries. Consider an investment in fire safety as part of a sustainable growth strategy.

 

Until the NFPA publishes its chapter on marijuana safety standards, businesses will continue to face uncertainty. If the NFPA’s committee approves the second version of the chapter, the regulations could appear in the 2018 version of the NFPA 1 Fire Code. However, many fire safety practices remain consistent from industry to industry. In the absence of a formalized code, businesses and fire officials can work together to ensure fire safety in this rapidly growing industry.

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