As of November 2021, Cannabis is legal, recreationally or medicinally, in three-quarters of U.S. states. With more and more states enacting laws to pave the way for medicinal and recreational cannabis use, more growers are bringing on more employees to keep up with consumer demand. As of January 2022, state-legalized cannabis production accounted for 428,059 "plant-touching jobs," a 33% increase over 2021, with 280 new jobs added daily. Overall, the industry looks to grow to as many as 475,000 positions by 2023. This growth reflects the increase in the U.S. market for Cannabis, which will likely grow by 122.5% from 2018 to 2025. The cannabis industry may potentially blossom into a $24 billion-a-year industry. By 2025, it could employ more people than the U.S. manufacturing sector.
Workers who touch Cannabis plants need their hands protected.
As with the cultivation and production of any crop, workers must take safety precautions to protect themselves on the job. Although the cannabis industry has been growing significantly, the personal protective equipment (PPE) required to protect workers in this relatively new field has been slow to keep up with the industry's hazards. This article will examine cannabis cultivation, the specific hazards surrounding this crop, and how to navigate those hazards safely. We will also examine what PPE workers wear for the most common dangers cannabis industry workers face and highlight which products we offer to keep employees safe. And, for those areas where potential hazards exist but specific PPE doesn't exist, we provide insight into possible solutions until more permanent options arrive.
What Is Cannabis?
Many Americans freely interchange "cannabis" with weed, pot, and marijuana, but these terms don't mean the same. While marijuana refers solely to the Cannabis sativa plants that contain more significant amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC—the substance that impacts a person's mental state—the term "cannabis" has a broader meaning.
Cannabis is a type of plant in the Cannabaceae family. Different strains of cannabis plants have different levels of THC. Many growers and producers use Cannabis because it's more accurate and neutral than other names like weed or pot. Drugs containing Cannabis can have specific uses in treating certain medical conditions, including epilepsy, glaucoma, anxiety, pain and nausea management, sleep problems, HIV and AIDS. Movement disorders like Tourette Syndrome and multiple sclerosis have also seen success from being treated with Cannabis. Cancer treatments like chemotherapy have also seen benefits from Cannabis by addressing the daily side effects.
Cannabis Cultivation and Production
Cannabis cultivation refers to the growth and production of cannabis flowers, which start with just a seed or a plant clone. The process involves the planting, growing, developing, harvesting, drying, processing, curing, grading, trimming, packaging, and storing cannabis plants.
Like any other plant, Cannabis needs light, nutrients, water, and specific temperatures to grow and thrive. To control these elements, many growers use indoor grow facilities, though growers in sunny climates like the Mediterranean and the western U.S. can successfully grow Cannabis outdoors. Using indoor grow lights and temperature-controlled grow houses allows cannabis growers to control exactly how many hours of sunshine each plant gets without worrying about a cloudy day or potentially adverse weather conditions. Indoor growers are also able to maintain the ideal temperature.
After growth, cannabis plants are trimmed. Trimming increases crop yield when done correctly, but it is an exact science—not one that just anyone can do. By removing the suitable leaves in the right places using a sharp pair of gardening snips, growers can have a much more vigorous plant. Commercial growers may trim their cannabis plants by hand, but some opt to use a mechanical trimmer.
After trimming and harvesting, cannabis plants are thoroughly dried to prevent mold growth, and the stems are removed. Lastly, the plants are ready for final processing, and cannabidiols are extracted from the plant matter.
Cannabis-Related Occupations and Individual Hazards
Even during the worst months of the Covid-19 pandemic, when faced with skyrocketing unemployment and a temporary recession, the cannabis industry exploded. Growing by 32% in 2020, the cannabis industry added 77,000 jobs nationwide. Here are the jobs creating the most growth in the industry:
- Extraction Technicians are responsible for carefully converting cannabis plant material into medically safe, high-quality cannabis oils and liquids meant to be ingested, inhaled, or applied topically. Extraction technicians may face poor indoor air quality, dangerous machinery, and exposure to allergens.
- Budtenders work in medical and recreational dispensaries to help customers with their cannabis purchases. They answer customer questions, stock sales floors, and recommend the right products to meet customer needs. Budtenders may deal with exposure to sensitizers and allergens.
- Cultivators, Trimmers, and Harvesters are responsible for trimming and removing all viable plant material and buds from cannabis plants. They de-fan the plants, weigh and record them to track harvests, trim sticks after the cannabis leaves have dried, and maintain a hygienic work environment throughout the process. Trimmers may accidentally snip or cut their hands when trimming leaves away from cannabis buds. Cultivators encounter pesticides, mold, allergens, carbon dioxide, and U.V. light.
- Chefs work to infuse beverages and food products with THC and cannabidiol in commercial kitchens, often infusing cooking oils and fats with cannabis oil. Hot objects are always a concern for those working in kitchens.
- Laboratory Technicians prepare samples of Cannabis for inspection and analysis. They may encounter harmful chemicals and solvents while performing their role.
- Maintenance Workers keep equipment and facilities, such as the lights and HVAC systems, running correctly. They encounter a lot of dirt, grease, heat, and sharp objects during an average work day.
- Master Growers oversee the entire cultivation process, from planting to lighting and watering to harvesting.
- Security Guards keep valuable products from being stolen and sold on the black market.
As with any other industry, specific occupational safety regulations apply to cannabis growth and production. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets regulations designed to keep all workers safe and healthy on the job. This includes setting and enforcing the standards that PPE must meet to keep workers safe from specific hazards. OSHA 1910.32 is the governing regulation for personal protective equipment (PPE), requiring employers to provide this necessary PPE at no cost to employees.
In addition to OSHA, many states, like Colorado, have other laws to address potential occupational safety and health hazards affecting workers in the cannabis industry. Documents like this one, created by the Colorado Department of Public Health, outline best practices for growing and handling Cannabis and include state and local Marijuana Enforcement Division regulations and restrictions. This document is a go-to resource for safe cannabis production and assisted us in showing products below that users require. More information can also be found in this document. Growers, cultivators, producers, and anyone in the cannabis industry must conduct extensive research on local safety regulations and best practices for establishing a safe work environment.
Within the cannabis industry, a range of biological, chemical, mechanical, and physical hazards can impact workers at every stage of the growing and production process. Biological hazards, such as exposure to mold, come from working with plants grown in high humidity. Chemical hazards are one of the most common hazards in cultivation. Mechanical hazards are always present when any machines are operating.
Here are some examples of these hazards:
Biological – allergens and sensitizers from plant handling, dust, and mold
- Chemical – carbon dioxide that is used to enrich the plants' growing environment, janitorial staff cleaning, handling corrosives such as hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid, using disinfectants and cleaning chemicals, mixing fertilizers and nutrients for growing plants, mixing and applying pesticides to plants, solvents used for extraction processes, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the form of emitted gasses
- Mechanical and Physical – operating UV-generating equipment, working around forklifts, lockout/tagout concerns, working in confined spaces with inadequate air-flow
Now let's examine the required PPE to combat the hazards highlighted above.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
MCR Safety's core competency is protecting workers with high-quality PPE, including work gloves, safety glasses, safety goggles, and safety clothing. Below we break down the core categories of PPE we specialize in that cannabis workers should consider wearing.
Workers' hands are exposed to hazards across almost all stages of cannabis production, especially those with roles involving the direct handling of plants. Below we highlight some common forms of hand protection needed across this industry.
Handling and Trimming Gloves
Numerous sharp objects are used during cannabis cultivation, from knives to shears, scissors, and trimmers. Manually trimming buds can result in nicks and cuts, making cut-resistant gloves a necessary form of PPE for many workers. Consider wearing a thin disposable glove underneath your cut-resistant gloves for those needing waterproof protection and cut resistance. You might also shop our integrated waterproof cut-resistant styles ready to wear straight out of the package.
Our 92783 primary-coated flat nitrile gloves provide water/oil resistance, and the outer nitrile foam palm coating offers excellent grip and abrasion resistance. Combine all this with ANSI Puncture 5 and A4 cut-resistance, and you have an all-purpose glove that will protect your hands from numerous hazards!
Click the image above to see all our waterproof, cut-resistant glove options.
Chemical-Resistant Gloves and Disposable Gloves
Nitrile gloves help prevent skin irritation from contacting the chemicals, solvents, and oils used in the cannabis industry. We stock both thick nitrile waterproof gloves and thinner disposable styles. The determination of which to use should be based on the chemicals present after performing a proper hazard assessment. Below are some examples of our top-selling nitrile styles.
Click the image above to compare these options.
Click the image above to see all our different disposable nitrile glove options. Our 6010 and 6010 disposable gloves are tested for chemicals primarily designed for light-duty tasks.
Latex disposable gloves are the softest options we provide.
Burns pose a significant concern for those working in food operations, such as kitchens and bakeries where edibles are made using cannabis ingredients. In addition, there are concerns about those having to change tubing on compressed gases. Our website identifies five contact heat levels and offers a variety of glove options for each. For additional information on how the contact heat levels are derived, we encourage you to check out the article Our Best Heat-Resistant Gloves.
Click the image above to see all our different heat-resistant work glove options.
While operating trimming machines, flying debris and material is thrown out at high speeds at any moment. To protect against this hazard, workers must always have their eyes shielded during operations. In addition to mechanical hazards, numerous other hazards can impact the eyes, including chemical splashes, aerosolized nuisance dust, and high-intensity light concerns. We highlight various options below.
Applying pesticides to plants and using solvents and chemicals during extraction involves liquids that can splash into a person's eyes. In addition, plant aerosolized nuisance dust is commonly found around automated bud and leaf trimming operations. Goggles are excellent at sealing off one's eyes to all outside irritants. Below is a look at all our top-selling styles.
Rubber straps work the best around chemicals.
Grow Room and Grow Light Safety Glasses
Increased light equates to faster growth, meaning it's highly advantageous for growers to use the brightest lights. So, what type of glasses do you need to protect your eyes from intense grow lights? The answer to this question depends on the growth stage. For the vegetative growth stage, which lasts around 4-5 weeks, bright metal halide (MH) keeps plants growing. These lights contain an inner arcing tube like a welder's arc and are the brightest lamps, ranging from 6,500°K - 10,000°K. There are lower levels of metal halide lamps towards the middle of the veg cycle before entering the flowering stage. Ceramic Metal Halide (CMH) and Light Emitting Ceramic (LEC) lamps light up operations and range from 3,000°K - 4,200°K,
or the flowering stage, intense yellow lights and high-pressure sodium (HPS) grow lights operate, ranging from 2,200k to 2,700K. In addition, the industry uses U.V. lamps as germicidal tools and LED lighting systems during indoor cultivation.
The health effects of the light emitted from these sources present definitive concerns for workers' eyes. The below chart, found in Indoor Marijuana Grow Facility Design, shows the different stages of light required.
||Hours of Light
||Hours of Darkness
||Light in Kevlin
In the spirit of keeping users safe, we want to make you aware there are specific lenses users require that MCR Safety doesn't offer at this time. However, we're in the process of addressing this gap now and will be introducing styles soon. Here are some options to consider in the meantime:
For those who don't need increased light protection, the below styles meet the ANSI Z87 standard and are designed for specific hazards users potentially face.
We stock a wide range of tinted options.
Photochromic styles are great for workers who are constantly moving between indoors and outdoors.
Foam-lined safety glasses are perfect for keeping dirt and dust out of workers' eyes.
Cooling Towels and Safety Vests
Health risks from excessive time spent in the heat and humidity of an indoor growing environment are a serious concern. MCR Safety stocks a wide range of cooling gear, which are extensively highlighted in our article Chilled with Comfortable Cooling Towels and Gear. We also stock a wide range of breathable gloves. The images below identify these styles, and our online catalog helps users quickly navigate to these styles.
Pre-imprinted security vesta are ideal for those keeping watch over valuable products.
Machines like high-pressure extraction grinders, trimmers, and woodchippers are used across all cultivation facilities, including those processing cannabis. Proper lockout/tagout programs must always be in place around these dangerous machines to help workers avoid injury or even death. Our article Learn About Lockout Tagout provides additional information on this topic.
And, before we move onto our common questions section, we do want to remind users that cannabis industry workers commonly encounter mold and gases that pose serious respiratory hazards. While MCR Safety doesn't supply respiratory devices that protect against such hazards, we can get you in contact with PPE distributors who do. Leave us a comment below and we will alert our distribution partners.
Is hemp the same thing as cannabis marijuana?
- Hemp is another name for Cannabis. It is Cannabis that contains a THC content of 0.3% or less by dry weight. Marijuana, another derivative of Cannabis, has a THC content of more than 0.3% by dry weight. THC is the chemical responsible for the altered "high" feeling people get when they use cannabis products. Marijuana, another derivative of Cannabis, has a THC content of more than 0.3%, which is why users report altered mental or emotional states when it is smoked or ingested. From a horticultural perspective, there may not be any discernible difference, but they are two very different things legally.
Where is Cannabis legal in the U.S.?
- Cannabis laws change with just about every election. At the time of this writing (June 2022), recreational Cannabis is legal in 19 states: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. The use of Cannabis is also legal in the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands.
What is cannabis oil used for?
- Cannabis oil, sometimes called cannabidiol, or CBD for short, is derived from the same plants used to produce other cannabis products. CBD oil does not typically contain THC, so it has no psychoactive effects on users. It may treat pain and anxiety, boost appetite, and address various conditions, including acne, depression, epilepsy, glaucoma, elevated blood pressure, insomnia, involuntary muscle spasms, and Parkinson's disease.
Protecting Cannabis Workers
The process of cultivating and processing cannabis plants is a labor-intensive practice, one that requires careful attention to detail and plenty of thought given to worker safety. At MCR Safety, we go to great lengths to ensure the safety of workers in all industries, and the cannabis industry is no exception.
From safety goggles and protective disposable gloves to gloves made especially for trimming cannabis buds without trimming hands or fingers, MCR Safety is the leading supplier of safety gear for those working in cannabis cultivation and processing.
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For over 45 years, MCR Safety has proven to be a world leader in gloves, glasses, and garments. Whether it's growing Cannabis, maintaining and servicing HVAC systems, or working at a construction site, we provide solutions to workplace hazards. It's all part of our commitment to protect people.
No matter your industry, we have the personal protective equipment you need.
Learn more about MCR Safety by checking out our most recent video. For more information, browse our website, request a catalog, find a distributor, or give us a call at 800-955-6887.