Exploring Workplace Health and Safety in Cannabis

Exploring Workplace Health and Safety in Cannabis

The phrase “working in cannabis” has evolved exponentially as decriminalization and legalization have worked their way across the United States. So much so, in fact, that Leafly’s 2020 Cannabis Jobs Report counted an incredible 243,000 full-time equivalent employees as of January - marking an impressive 15% increase from it’s 2019 report. The year over year growth isn’t an anomaly for the industry either; cannabis employment in the United States has more than doubled in the last four years. For comparison, Massachusetts now has more cannabis employees than hairstylists and cosmetologists. Nevada has an equal amount of cannabis employees and bartenders and Illinois has double the amount of cannabis workers than they do meat-packers. 

With such rapidly increasing  employment numbers, the question of workplace safety, and guidelines arises naturally. Cannabis job creation now outpaces growth in the occupational therapy, nurse practitioner and information security analysis industries - but what protections do cannabis employees have? 

Most Common Injuries in the Cannabis Industry

Before digging into state by state regulations, it’s important to outline the occupational health and safety concerns facing the cannabis industry. 

The cannabis industry is a blend of agriculture, distribution, laboratory testing, manufacturing and retail verticals each bringing their own unique hazards and considerations to the table. While the most common injuries reported are muscle strain, cuts, falls and being struck by a falling object, not too dissimilar from more strictly regulated spaces - the industry faces the enormous task of creating effective job training for a continuously growing employment base in an under-represented and murkily legislated field. 

The most common injury locations from reported cases (listed in order of most frequent) are fingers, hands, lower back, eye and knee. 

In a study conducted by a Colorado worker’s compensation agency, it was noted that 38% of all on-the-job injuries reported in the cannabis industry occurred during the first six months of employment which suggests inadequate onboarding training for new employees. In 2018 Colorado State University facilitated the first deep dive into workforce issues in cannabis from an employee perspective. It’s findings reported that 46% of participants had never received any form of health and safety training on the job and only 16% of participants reported receiving structured, ongoing training. 

These results aren’t promising and leave new-to-the-industry employees (of which there are tens of thousands annually) at a higher risk of job-related injury.

Existing Training Requirements for the Cannabis Industry

Employees in California, Colorado, Washington and Oregon make up 50% of the entire reported cannabis workforce. 

California, the nation’s largest cannabis employer, has incorporated health and safety training for cannabis employees into their state legislature through CAL/OSHA’s 30 hours general training requirement in addition to passing AB 2799 in 2018. The bill, signed in September, requires licensed cannabis businesses to have at least one employee and manager complete a 30-hour course from the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (CalOSHA) to ensure compliance with job-related safety and health hazards.

Often looked to for cannabis legislation precedents - AB 2799 was a step in the right direction for cannabis worker protection in California, but it's clear that there is a long road ahead.

Safety Best Practices for Cannabis Employers

As we celebrate increasing protections for our cannabis employees, there are still many steps employers will need to take independently to ensure safety for their teams.

With hand and finger injuries topping the charts on common cannabis-related workplace injuries, and most common window of injury occurring within the first six months of employment - it’s imperative to shed light on the transient trimming community. 

Cannabis trimming injuries can include arthritis, repetitive strain injuries, ganglion cysts and skin irritation. Employers are often in the position of weighing effectiveness against efficiency putting an enormous amount of strain (pun intended) on their trimmers. 

Trimming Tools Can Help Prevent Cannabis Workplace Injury

While some larger grows use larger machines or tumblers such as Twister Trimmer or Centurion Pro, the costs are prohibitive to smaller grow operations or home growers. Electric handheld bud trimmers - like Trim Daddy - can prevent hand strain, carpal tunnel and blade injuries by providing a sturdy handle, keeping hands away from blades. By removing the repetitive motions associated with trimming scissors, a handheld trimmer can deliver the same attention to detail as a hand trim without causing pain and strain to the trimmer. 

A small investment at just over $300, Trim Daddy is certainly a commitment to elevating the trim experience in your operation - but comes in much under the thousand dollar price tag of similar competitors. Trim Daddy is for trimmers, by trimmers. 

While there are currently no regulations surrounding equipment use for trimmers, equipping your team with adequate resources can prevent employee turnover, increase retention and productivity all while reducing operational expenses. 

Resources for Cannabis Industry Employees

While seemingly endless resources and regulations exist on marijuana use in the workplace, information for occupational health and safety of cannabis industry employees is severely lacking. If you’re employed in the cannabis industry, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite resources below:

Guide to Worker Safety in the Cannabis Industry

California Cannabis Portal

Cannabis Industry Health and Safety

Cannabis Industry Hazards Safety Training

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