Colorado Releases Marijuana Workplace Health and Safety Guide

Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has issued a new document detailing how marijuana growers successfully can create and manage a health and safety program in response to the state’s growing industry.

The “Guide to Worker Safety and Health in the Marijuana Industry” provides an outline for businesses based on existing rules and regulations from national and federal agencies including OSHA, ANSI, NIOSH and the EPA in an effort to assist them with creating an effective occupational health and safety program.

“The complicated nature of the hazards present in the marijuana industry highlights the need for careful attention to safety and health at all types of marijuana businesses,” the guide says.

Biological Hazards

Among the specific issues addressed are the biological hazards employees might face including molds, dermal allergens and respiratory allergens.

Just as in any horticulture operation, the state suggests moisture and dampness control, exhaust ventilation, engineering controls and proper personal protective equipment to reduce worker exposure.

During the marijuana growing process, humidity could reach 70 percent, which could cause substantial mold growth if the correct steps are not taken, the guide says. The document cites previous studies completed of illegal indoor growing operations in which elevated levels of airborne mold spores were discovered during the law enforcement removal process.

The marijuana plant could cause allergic reactions, hypersensitivity and anaphylaxis if exposure occurs. The agency recommends the following best practice to alleviate the risk:

  • Engineering controls such as local ventilation can assist in controlling airborne exposures to dusts or chemical mists or vapors.
  • Exposure controls at the worker level include work scheduling, job rotation, and worker training.
  • Determine if direct contact with plants can be controlled first by the above mentioned elimination, engineering, or administrative controls.
  • Conduct a PPE assessment to determine the need for respiratory protection, skin and eye protection or protective clothing.

Workers in the industry also could be exposed to chemical hazards including carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, pesticides and various organic compounds. CDPHE recommends installing monitoring devices to monitor air quality, establishing maintenance program and providing applicable PPE such as respirators.

With pesticides, companies should have knowledge about the latest EPA guidelines such as the  EPA’s Agricultural Worker Protection Standard.  The rule requires employers must do the following:

  • Provide protections to workers and handlers from potential pesticide exposure;
  • Provide training on the safe use of pesticides;
  • Provide training on how to avoid exposures to pesticides;
  • Must be able to identify pesticides exposure symptoms and how to respond and manage exposures to pesticides if they occur.

Lastly, certain nutrients and corrosive chemicals used in the growing process can destroy exposed body tissues and even metal, according to CDPHE.

The use of safety data sheets and ventilation systems are outlined in the best practices. In addition, special caution should be taken to segregate acids and store corrosives correctly. NIOSH, OSHA and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) were used to complete the best practices for these specific guidelines.

Physical Hazards

The marijuana industry faces a number of physical hazards much like construction or manufacturing.

Workers at growing facilities could be exposed to compressed gases, specific occupational injuries such as sharp objects, ergonomic hazards, workplace violence; slips, trips or falls and confined spaces, just to name a few.

The guide outlines properly storing gases, utilizing safety data sheets, developing first-aid plans and ensuring employees are educated about what to do should an injury occur.

Electrical hazards are more commonplace in marijuana facilities because of the amount of light needed in the growing process.

An electric safety program strongly is urged, and the following elements should be considered:

  • Bonding and grounding
  • Overcurrent protection
  • Installation in wet locations
  • Flexible cords and cables
  • Distribution panels and rooms
  • Electrical guarding
  • Working on or near live parts.

Lastly, UV radiation is a risk explicit to marijuana growers. Metal halide lights, which contain an arc tube similar to a welder’s arc, are used at many greenhouses and facilities.

“This arc emits intense UV radiation along with visible light. Normally the outer glass bulb

reduces the ultraviolet (UV) radiation to nominal levels, but, if the outer bulb is broken, UV levels can be significant enough to cause photokeratitis,” the guide explains.

Photokeratitis, a painful eye condition, could be prevented with immediate replacement of broken metal halide bulbs. Other best practices outlined in the document include:

  • Consider substituting metal halide lights with safer alternative lighting.
  • Always operate metal halide and high-pressure sodium discharge lamps with the compatible ballast, rated fixture (open/closed, wattage), and socket.
  • Provide and require the use of the appropriate PPE (glasses or goggles)for employees who work in intense lighting areas. Ensure that eye protection is rated for the UV wavelength that is being used.
  • Ensure that safe electrical practices are used when changing out light bulbs. Electrical system work should only be performed by a qualified or certified person.
  • Proper lockout/tagout procedures should be used when work is done on any system that may contain electrical energy.
  • Appropriate fall protection measures should be taken when bulbs are changed while working at heights.

A full copy of the “Guide to Worker Safety and Health in the Marijuana Industry” is available here.

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