As U.S. lawmakers continue to legalize cannabis for medical and personal use, the industry’s workforce is growing alongside it.
While most managers & business owners understand that occupational safety is regulated by OSHA, you may not be aware that the agency is also one of several organizations that regulate chemical safety.
Cannabis workers may come into contact with several biological and chemical hazards. In fact, hazard risks exist in all stages of cannabis production, including cultivation, extraction, and sales. Exposure risks top the list due to the use of disinfecting compounds, pesticides, nutrients, and other chemical compounds.
Cannabis employers are subject to the same OSHA regulations as other industries, including following the general duty clause, which states that employers should provide “a place of employment which [is] free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”
Let’s break down the hazards involved with cannabis production.
Top chemical hazards for cannabis workers
While cultivating plants, the main chemical hazards are pesticides, carbon dioxide, and cleaning compounds.
During cultivation and extraction, trimming, mold, yeast, and fungi become serious threats. When touched or inhaled, those materials may cause a host of issues, including allergic reactions, coughing, wheezing, nasal congestion, and throat, eye, and skin irritation.
If you’re an employer in the cannabis industry, consider having air quality monitored by a certified industrial hygienist to determine spore level. Preexisting conditions may cause individuals with respiratory issues to be more susceptible to mold.
When are workers at highest risk?
Workers are at the highest risk during the production process and housekeeping procedures.
The hazards may include:
- Carbon dioxide: At high concentrations, carbon dioxide acts as a simple asphyxiant. Workers exposed to high levels can also suffer burns.
- Carbon monoxide: Exposure can result in carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Pesticides: Marijuana cultivation facilities often use insecticides and fungicides. The EPA Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act provide standards and guidance for the safe handling, storage, and application of pesticides to avoid pesticide poisoning, which has multiple health effects, including cancer.
- Volatile organic compounds: These can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches; vomiting; dizziness; and worsening asthma symptoms. Long-term exposure can cause additional health effects, including kidney and liver impacts, respiratory impacts, and cancers.
- Nutrients and corrosive materials: In the cannabis industry, the practice of mixing nutrients during the cultivation stage to improve the quality of the plant is increasing. However, the raw materials used to formulate nutrients may cause acute and chronic health effects. The most common corrosives include hydrochloric acid, phosphoric acid, sulfuric acid, ammonium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide, and sodium hydroxide.
- Cleaning products: Chemical products used for cleaning indoor environments and surfaces can cause respiratory or skin irritation, burns, irritation of eyes, and asthma. Improper mixing of chemicals can cause severe lung damage.
- Butane: Extracting using butane is cost-effective, but it also presents higher hazardous risks. Open releases of butane to the atmosphere during extractions is prohibited by OSHA, EPA, and fire departments.
If you are a cannabis business owner, consider performing a safety audit, which can provide documented findings that management can use as a blueprint to improve safety.
Creating a written safety plan is also always a great first step.
Bringing it all together
As with most other industries that involve airborne toxins, the cannabis industry requires a certain duty of care, as per OSHA.
The best thing you can do as a manager or employer is to ensure a safe working environment for your team. That starts with a written plan and using the right personal protective equipment, such as respirators. Additionally, if your team works around loud machines all day, keep in mind that there’s a standard for that as well.
As per OSHA Regulation 29 CFR 1910.95, the workplace hearing test standard, audiometric testing must be made available to all employees exposed to sound level at, or above, the 85 dBA over a TWA period – approximately as loud as a milling machine.
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About Worksite Medical
In most cases, OSHA requires medical surveillance testing, and at no cost to employees.
Worksite Medical makes that program easier with mobile medical testing.
We conduct on-site respirator fit tests, as well as audiometric exams, pulmonary function tests and heavy metal lab work, right on your job site. We also keep accurate, easy-to-access medical records for your convenience. You’ll keep your employees at work, and stay ahead of OSHA inspections.
With Worksite Medical, a mobile medical testing unit — we can bring all the resources of a lab to you. Our certified lab technicians can perform both qualitative and quantitative respirator tests to ensure a perfect fit.
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Give us a call at 1-844-622-8633, or complete the form below to schedule an on-site visit or to get your free quote!