With Legalization Imminent, Canadian Cannabis Industry Unprepared for Occupational Protections

By Ed Rutkowski

(June 1, 2018)—With the legalization of recreational marijuana throughout Canada slated to take effect this year, a surge in the cannabis work force is expected as growing operations shift from small shops to large factories. Encompassing tens of thousands of acres, these facilities will present health and safety problems for which the emerging cannabis industry is unprepared, according to a presentation delivered at AIHce EXP 2018 in Philadelphia.

On May 22, Donald Weekes, CIH, CSP, a consultant with InAIR Environmental, Ltd., in Ottawa, described the many biological, chemical, and physical hazards present in large marijuana-grow facilities. The humidity necessary to grow plants indoors promotes mold, which can be present in these facilities at a level 100 times greater than it is outdoors, Weekes said. Workers involved in cultivating or trimming plants can be affected.

Chemical hazards include carbon monoxide from indoor generators, since the people who design and build these facilities lack ventilation expertise, Weekes said. Workers will also likely be exposed to pesticides for controlling bugs and rodents as well as fertilizers for promoting plant growth.

Due to high water use, slips, trips, and falls are likely to be the most prevalent occupational hazard, according to Weekes. An abundance of water combined with wiring that isn’t likely to be up to code also presents electrical hazards.

The use of chemicals and the presence of excessive noise in these facilities will require workers to wear personal protective equipment such as respirators and hearing protection. But workers with experience growing illegal marijuana on small farms may not understand the need for PPE and other protections.

“This is the most resistant population I've ever encountered in terms of personal protective equipment,” Weekes said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau supports legalization of recreational marijuana. Canada’s Senate is considering legislation that would open a legal market in late summer or early autumn, according to media reports. Assuming the law passes, Canada’s provinces and territories will have the authority to set age restrictions on marijuana use and to regulate where it can be used and who can sell it.

Ed Rutkowski is editor in chief of The Synergist.

View more Synergist coverage of the conference on the AIHce Daily page.