Protecting cannabis industry workers

Protecting cannabis industry workers


In 2018, Canada legalized the recreational use of marijuana. While the legalization process focused on medical use, recreational use, federal and provincial rights, as well as the health and societal consequences of use, the impacts of its legalization have not been evaluated with respect to the health and safety of workers in the industry.

Cannabis industry employees are currently employed in three roles: production or cultivation, processing and retail sales. Assuming that the growth projections for the industry pan out, it is expected that the number of employees will only increase. It is essential to implement solutions to ensure their health and safety.

Cannabis cultivation and processing facilities expose workers to a wide variety of physical, biological, and chemical hazards. Similar to those found in other agricultural and processing industries, the risks include but are not limited to, ergonomics, electricity, noise, ultraviolet light, extraction and other pressurized equipment, walking/working surfaces, and confined spaces.

Biological hazards

Exposure to mould and sensitizers is the primary biological hazard linked to cannabis cultivation. The high levels of humidity required to cultivate cannabis are mainly responsible for the growth of mould—and moulds are associated with a variety of respiratory health effects. They are also highly related to dermal health effects.

Chemical hazards

Carbon dioxide, fertilizers and other nutrients are used to enhance plant growth. Pesticides are used to control insects. Fungicides are used to limit the formation of moulds. Disinfectants and other cleaning chemicals are used to maintain sanitary conditions in the plants.

These are a few examples of the chemical hazards found in both cultivation and processing operations. They pose great health and safety risks, mainly for inhalation exposure and dermal contact.

Physical hazards

The extraction of cannabis concentrates, involved in many processing operations as well as in the production of derived edible marijuana-infused products, exposes workers to an array of physical risks. To extract oils and resins, workers must use flammable materials such as butane, heptane, ethanol and isopropyl alcohol, at elevated pressures and temperatures. Employees are also exposed to cleaning chemicals used to maintain the sanitary environments in the plants. Related health effects range from skin rashes and burns to frostbite. Potential fires or explosions are additional sources of danger.

Ensuring employees’ safety

As always, the hierarchy of exposure controls to protect workers should be used. The employer should:

  • eliminate the hazard at the source or substitute safer alternatives
  • implement engineering solutions
  • proceed with administrative controls
  • offer personal protective equipment (PPE)

Exposure means the potential need for PPE. Employers who are engaged in cannabis cultivation and processing operations must complete hazard risk assessments and provide workers with appropriate PPE.

The primary focus for the selection of protective equipment should be aligned with the conclusion of the hazard risk assessment analysis—exposure to pesticides, moulds, dust, disinfectants, cleaning products and solvents should all be taken into consideration when choosing the PPE.

DuPont Personal Protection offers a range of apparel options to counter risks in this industry. Tyvek® garments are a great option for particle exposures, providing a superior balance of protection, durability and comfort. In addition to providing barrier protection from hazardous particles, Tyvek® garments may help to contain certain hazards and possibly mitigate their spread beyond the workplace.

In addition to garments, employers must evaluate the need for additional PPE, such as respirators, face and eye protection, gloves and protective footwear.

Contact our OHS expert for more information!