By Mark A. Lies, IIAdam R. Young, and Craig B. Simonsen

Woman holding hemp flowersSeyfarth Synopsis:  NIOSH has released a study on the safety and health hazards posed by marijuana growing farms.  Of concern for employers are the risks for musculoskeletal disorders, as well as dermal contact exposure to both THC and Botrytis cinerea, a plant pathogen. 

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has recently published the results of a potential hazards evaluation associated with the harvesting and processing of cannabis at a Washington state outdoor organic farm.  Health Hazard Evaluation Report, No. 2015-0111-3271 (April 2017).

The Report concludes that “if hand trimming tasks are performed for longer periods than we observed, the repetitive hand motions create a risk for hand and wrist musculoskeletal disorders.  Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component in cannabis, was detected on all surface wipe samples.  Botrytis cinerea, a plant pathogen that can cause allergic reactions in exposed individuals, was the predominant fungal species identified.”

NIOSH has provided the following methods for mitigating and managing the hazards:

  • Change hook line hanging heights to correspond with typical stem length and employee working technique.
  • Provide frequent breaks for employees when they are trimming cannabis by hand.
  • Develop a plan to rotate employees among jobs that use different muscle groups.
  • Train employees on tool cleaning, lubrication, sharpening, and maintenance.
  • Develop a cleaning schedule to remove tetrahydrocannabinol from work and tool surfaces.
  • Train employees to wear non-latex gloves when handling cannabis, cannabis products, or equipment that contacts cannabis.
  • Train employees to wash their skin with soap and water after removing gloves.

Employers in this industry can use these NIOSH recommendations to develop their own employee safety and training programs or to update their existing programs, as appropriate.  At a minimum, employers who have a written program in place may wish to make sure that they have covered all of the topics highlighted in these NIOSH this Report. Coordinating employer written materials with the NIOSH recommendations may improve employee safety and reduce the likelihood of workplace incidents.  Moreover, compliance with the NIOSH recommendations also may reduce the employer’s liability for an OSHA citation, should OSHA conduct an onsite inspection and find safety hazards unaddressed.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team or Workplace Policies and Handbooks Team.