Workers’ Comp Claims in Colorado’s Cannabis Industry Not as High as You Think

April 26, 2019

It’s a safe bet that there are a number of those among us who envision workers in the marijuana industry as mostly a bunch of mellow bud-blazers haphazardly performing the daily tasks of trimming, potting, transporting or selling cannabis.

Those who think that way may want to prepare themselves for a bit of disappointment.

Workers’ compensation claims data from the most mature cannabis industry in the nation portrays it as a comparatively safe workplace in long-legalized Colorado.

On the heels of the cannabis-related 4/20 holiday, Pinnacol Assurance, the state’s largest workers’ comp provider, has released an analysis of claims data for 2018 that shows roughly 350 Coloradans working in cannabis retail, cultivation, manufacturing, clerical support and transportation were injured on the job.

That’s not a large number of injured workers out of the roughly 3,000 cannabis-related businesses that are insured by Pinnacol.

Pinnacol’s cannabis accounts have a claim incident rate about half of the carrier’s overall book on average over the past four years, according to Jim McMillen, Pinnacol’s director of safety services.

He assesses the state’s cannabis industry on the whole as mature – Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 2000, and adult use in 2012 – and as “relatively safe” compared with other similar occupations in Colorado, possibly because the industry is so highly regulated.

“The losses and type of things we see for them are really similar to everything we see in our books,” McMillen said.

According to Pinnacol’s data, the five most common injury causes in the industry were:

  1. Strain
  2. Cut
  3. Fall or slip
  4. “Struck by” (being hit by something)
  5. “Strike” (person hitting something)

McMillen did note a concerning amount of “foreign body in eyes” type injuries, but those are not uncommon in the agricultural industry. The average cost of an eye injury is nearly $2,000, according to Pinnacol.

Seventy percent of injuries were incurred by men ages 20 to 29, which is also a typical demographic for workers in manual labor fields, according to McMillen.

Despite what the “4/20” date generates in terms of cannabis events and promotions, as well as enthusiasm, April tends to be the safest month for cannabis workers, with most workers’ comp claims occurring in November and December, according to Pinnacol.

McMillen has heard concerns that workers in the cannabis industry may be prone to being high while working, but he said the claims data and the anecdotal data doesn’t support the assertion that finding people who are impaired while working is more likely in that industry than other sectors.

“I think it’s certainly a concern for any employer,” he said. “That has become a challenge across the whole state, and I don’t know that this industry is really different.”

McMillen believes that based on the complimentary claims data, the cannabis industry should get the benefit of the doubt.

“You don’t see people in breweries drinking all day,” he said. “These are sophisticated businesses. They know what’s going on.”

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