What to Know About OSHA Regulations in the Cannabis Industry
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The cannabis industry continues its rapid expansion, with a growing workforce and unique occupational health hazards. In the U.S., this industry is projected to reach $72 billion annually by 2030, according to industry research group New Frontier Data

While most managers and business owners understand that occupational safety is regulated by OSHA, you may not be aware that the agency is also one of several organizations responsible for regulating 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 free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”

Let’s take a look at the hazards associated with cannabis production.


Related Article: Dust Inhalation Leads to Marijuana Worker’s Death, OSHA Fines

Related Article: The Costs of Overlooking Medical Surveillance


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.

Also, creating a written safety plan is also always a great first step.


Creating a written occupational health and safety plan for the cannabis industry


  • Assess hazards:

Identify potential hazards in the cannabis industry, including biological, chemical, and physical hazards such as organic dusts, bio-aerosols, pollen/allergens, volatile organic compounds, pesticides, and ergonomic issues.

  • Establish a safety program:

Develop a comprehensive safety program that includes hazard communication plans, hearing conservation plans, personal protective equipment assessments, respiratory protection plans, and lockout/tagout procedures.

  • Implement safety measures:

Implement safety measures to minimize worker exposure to identified hazards, such as routine cleaning programs, personal hygiene promotion, and exposure reduction strategies.

  • Provide training:

Offer regular safety training tailored to the cannabis industry to ensure workers are aware of potential hazards and how to protect themselves.

  • Monitor and evaluate:

Regularly monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of safety measures and adjust as necessary to ensure a safe and healthy work environment.

By following these steps, you can create a comprehensive written occupational health and safety plan that addresses the unique hazards present in the cannabis industry and protects the health and well-being of your workers


Protecting against common hazards


The hazards common hazards in the cannabis industry include;

  • exposure to particulate matter,
  • organic dusts,
  • bio-aerosols,
  • pollen/allergens,
  • volatile organic compounds,
  • pesticides, and
  • ergonomic issues.
  • Increased injury rates and dermal and respiratory health effects have been reported among cannabis workers.
  • Additionally, workers may face health concerns related to social, economic, and political forces in the transitioning cannabis industry, as well as potential hazards from second-hand cannabis smoke and impairment due to cannabis use.


To protect workers, employers should implement:


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. By proactively addressing these hazards and implementing comprehensive safety programs, employers can help protect the health and well-being of their workers in this growing industry.

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.

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