A cannabis trimmer working at a commercial grow operation in Washington state.

Sarah Climaco

Federal Agency Reports on Worker Safety in Cannabis Cultivation Jobs

In an April report issued by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which comprises the industrial hygienic research team for the Center for Disease Control (CDC), government scientists have investigated and determined the major health and safety risks of working on a cannabis farm.

Scientists visited the site of Farmer Tom Organics in southern Washington state on two separate occasions during the summer of 2015 to conduct their research. These visits coincided with the harvest and trimming of a commercial-grade cannabis crop, arguably two of the most grueling tasks associated with cannabis work.

According to the report, scientists interviewed workers about health and safety concerns related to their job, investigated potential ergonomic issues related to typical cannabis farm activities, took surface wipe samples of the workplace’s tools and facilities, and collected air samples for potential microbes and endotoxins.

The researchers’ summary of their results is as follows:

  • Employees were concerned about repetitive hand motions when trimming cannabis.

  • Some hand trimming activities required a lot of hand motions, but not a lot of force.

  • Botrytis cinerea was the main fungal species in the air.

  • Actinobacteria was the most frequently identified bacterial phyla in the air.

  • We found tetrahydrocannabinol in every surface wipe sample.

  • Endotoxin concentrations were all below the occupational exposure limit.

Researchers suggested a number of potential remedies for these issues. These included providing regular breaks for workers when hand-trimming cannabis, developing a plan to rotate employees through jobs that use different muscle groups, and developing a cleaning schedule to remove residual THC from tools and work surfaces.

The researchers also made suggestions for cannabis workers, such as using non-latex gloves while handling cannabis and/or cannabis products, washing one’s hands with soap and water following the removal of said gloves, and the regular cleaning of work surfaces used to process cannabis.

Interestingly, in the report (which, remember, was published by a federal agency) researchers describe the working conditions as that of an “organic cannabis farm” — both employing the proper vernacular for the plant, a phrase that U.S. government representatives have generally neglected in favor of the more dated “marijuana” or even “marihuana,” and admitting that the cannabis at the farm was being grown organically despite the plant’s ongoing federal prohibition.


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