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The majority of Americans now live in states where cannabis is legally cultivated for medical and recreational purposes. And the statistics on cannabis cultivation paint an astounding story. 

Cannabis is now the country’s sixth-largest cash crop, outpacing potatoes and rice in annual production, according to Leafly’s 2022 Harvest Cultivation Report. The report states that cannabis farmers in the United States produce no less than 2,834 metric tons of cannabis flower per year.

But for the workers at these indoor and outdoor cannabis cultivation sites, there are numerous on-the-job hazards to take into consideration. 

Workplace injuries 

To a large extent, cannabis workplace dangers are similar to the physical risks employees face in other industries. 

For cultivators, this can mean injuries from the use of heavy machinery both indoors and outside. 

Slips and falls can lead to serious injury. This is especially true in indoor cultivation, where surfaces can quickly become moist and slippery due to irrigation and high humidity. These falls can be hazardous in vertical grows where a series of elevated surfaces and catwalks present ample opportunities for injury. 

In addition, cultivators can suffer burns and electrocution from powerful indoor lights. 

Microbial dangers 

In January 2022, a 27-year-old worker at a Trulieve marijuana cultivation and processing facility died after she reportedly collapsed on the job. A report by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that the employee was filling pre-rolls with finely-ground cannabis when she complained that she was not able to breathe.

Though the case is still ongoing, it shows how marijuana cultivation and processing work can be dangerous, even when dealing with products that may appear harmless. It also highlighted some of the respiratory dangers of inside and outside cannabis cultivation. 

Some of these airborne dangers include bacteria and fungi like mold and mildew, which can thrive in the often humid environment of cannabis cultivation. Exposure to such biological contaminants can pose a serious health risk for people with allergies or compromised immune systems.

Theft and robbery

In late 2021, the medical cannabis advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) released a robbery preparedness guide. 

“No one wants to think about robberies and burglaries, but they are a reality for all businesses, particularly retail operations,” the guide states.

But it is not only cannabis retail businesses that are in danger. As the guide notes, because cannabis companies have trouble accessing banking services, they are easy targets. And this is especially true for isolated businesses or employees working alone. 

At cannabis cultivation sites, potential thieves can find no shortage of equipment and valuable cannabis products to steal, as well as the cash many businesses keep on-site. 

Ergonomic injuries 

Cannabis cultivation requires the performance of a number of repetitive tasks that can lead to injury.

Back and muscle injuries can result from heavy lifting such as when off-loading shipments or stocking shelves in a grow facility. 

One of the most common ergonomic injuries in cannabis occurs in the trim room. Workers who spend hours trimming harvested flower can develop muscle strains and health issues like chronic hand soreness or carpal tunnel syndrome.  

Exposure to dangerous chemicals 

Cannabis cultivators use various chemicals in their grow operations.

If an area is not well-ventilated, cultivators can be exposed to carbon monoxide from gasoline-powered equipment like generators and space heaters. 

Cultivators can also be exposed to high levels of CO2, which is used to increase plant yields. Other potentially harmful additives in cannabis include pesticides, cleaning products, volatile organic compounds, and the chemicals used to produce cannabis extracts.  

The ailments that can result from chemical exposure range from skin and eye irritation to burns and lung damage. 

How to stay safe when growing cannabis 

Companies can reduce the risks of cannabis cultivation by following best practices. 

These involve adhering to the relevant cannabis compliance regulations in your jurisdiction, which focus heavily on safety-related workplace concerns. Companies can then use these guidelines to develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to guide them through these compliance-related tasks.  

With these guidelines in hand, companies are no longer leaving safety and compliance up to memory and guesswork.

Companies must make personal protective equipment available to employees and reduce  exposure to dangerous chemicals. They must also follow best practices for robbery prevention and how to respond safely during a robbery. 

Fostering cleanliness is also of great importance. By keeping surfaces clean, companies can reduce the risk of contamination of the workplace and the products they make. Regular cleaning and proper ventilation can also help prevent mold and mildew and keep surfaces dry to prevent slips and falls.

But there is no single step that can eliminate such workplace dangers.

Instead, cannabis companies must develop a workplace culture of safety and compliance. In such a workplace, safety isn’t an afterthought; it is at the forefront of daily operations. 

For cannabis cultivators, a safety culture can mean the difference between a safe workplace and one where a potentially serious injury is a matter of time.

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Ben Hartman, Content Manager

Ben Hartman is a cannabis writing and marketing professional with over 15 years of experience in journalism and digital content creation. Ben was formerly the senior writer and research and analysis lead for The Cannigma.

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