Occupational Exposure to Chemicals in the Marijuana Industry-October 2022

N THIS ISSUE: Occupational Exposure to Chemicals in the Marijuana Industry 

The use and legalization of marijuana (cannabis) has greatly increased in recent years. A majority of states now allow cannabis for medical reasons and many of these allow adult use with only limited restriction. The marijuana industry brings in billions of dollars each year and many states and local governments now depend upon the taxation that they receive.
New occupations have been created and traditional jobs changed to meet the demands of this industry. Before the legalization of adult use of marijuana, only limited research had been done on its occupational effects. Today, the number of studies domestically and internationally is accelerating. In addition to common workplace hazards, workers may be exposed to airborne contaminants that may affect the human respiratory system such as particulate and volatile organic chemicals (VOCs). OSHA and other organizations have not had sufficient time to develop specific standards for marijuana production although standards for specific chemicals and contaminants do exist. 
Heath effects may be different between indoor and outdoor cultivation. Notable health hazards of indoor growing of cannabis include carbon dioxide, UV exposure, and biological hazards including mold and pollen. Agricultural workers may be exposed to dust, both organic and inorganic, consisting of plant particles, glucans, viruses, bacteria and endotoxin, fungi and mycotoxins, pollen, insects, and compost.
Most studies conducted on inhalation have measured particulates and mists below the OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit of 15 milligrams per cubic meter (mg/m3) or the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) Threshold Limit Value (TLV). However, some workers have repeated respiratory effects which may indicate that these standards are not adequate. Cannabis produces and emits a wide range of VOCs but it is terpenes that give its unique aroma. Studies on VOCs have concentrated on terpenes as an indicator of overall exposures. Other industries have studied terpenes and there are national and international standards for terpene inhalation that can be used. Cannabis is also considered a potential allergen. The pollen, oils and leaves, can induce allergic rhinitis, bronchitis, and asthma.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Safety in January 2017 published a Guide to Worker Safety and Health in the Marijuana Industry. It discusses the biological and chemical hazards along with the physical hazards that exist in growing marijuana. It also outlines how to start a safety and health program based upon OSHA guidelines and best practices. Since Colorado was one of the first to legalize recreational marijuana,  many states have adopted or refer to this guide. Employers who grow or dispense cannabis should use it to create or add to their own safety program.

Table 5.1: Common occupations and potential hazards in the marijuana industry Job from Colorado Guide to Worker Safety and Health

JobDutiesPotential Hazards
CultivatorPlanting, transplanting, physically relocating plants, watering, nutrient mixing and feeding, mixing and applying pesticides, cleaning, harvesting plants, drying plants Mold, sensitizers/allergens CO2, CO, pesticides/fungicides, ergonomics, walking/ working surfaces, lighting hazards, chemical exposures 
TrimmerTrimming, packaging, shipping, data entry, cleaning Mold, sensitizers/allergens, CO2, CO, pesticides, ergonomics, occupational injuries (cuts), chemical exposures, machinery 
Extraction technician Extracting marijuana concentrates Machinery, IAQ, allergens, noise, ergonomics, chemical exposures, use of explosive/ flammable chemicals such as butane 
Edible producer, infused product confectioner/artisan/ chef Cooking, baking, packaging, bottling, and labeling marijuana infused products Occupational injuries (burns), noise, chemicals 
BudtenderSales representative who sells marijuana and marijuana products to customers Sensitizers/allergens, ergonomics, workplace violence 
Laboratory technician Operates laboratory equipment to determine cannabinoid and contaminant concentrations Solvents, ergonomics 
Cultivation owner/operator In addition to running the business, may oversee and be involved in the functions of the grow operation Sensitizers/allergens, mold, CO2, CO, pesticides/fungicides, high pressure machinery, IAQ, noise, chemicals, workplace violence 
AdministrativeResponsible for day-to-day operations of the business. May include marketing roles, financial roles, HR roles, retail store management Ergonomics, workplace violence 
TransportationMay transport product or money between growing and retail facilities Occupational injuries, workplace violence 
Maintenance (non-contracted) Facilities maintenance, equipment maintenance, HVAC Elevated heights, electrical hazards 

For more information on this topic and to discuss your company’s safety and industrial hygiene needs call OccuSafe at (214) 662-6005 or visit us at www.occusafeinc.com

OccuSafe Industrial Hygiene & Safety, Inc. provides skills and expertise to recognize, evaluate and control hazards and injuries in the areas of industrial hygiene, occupational safety and health. OccuSafe services companies of all sizes in a range of industries.

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