March 14, 2018 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 0Comment

Public health researchers are providing insight about who works in Colorado’s cannabis industry and the working conditions they experience. The information comes from a survey of about 200 workers from Colorado whose jobs require direct contact with cannabis or cannabis products. The researchers recently published their findings in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

  • Most of the workers (66 percent) were age 30 or younger, and 76 percent were Caucasian.
  • The majority of workers (75 percent) were paid an hourly wage, 68 percent earned no more than $30,000 per year, and 72 percent were not working in any other industry.
  • More than 70 percent had health insurance coverage, but 63 percent noted that their employer did not provide any coverage assistance.
  • Sixty-five percent reported receiving discounts on cannabis products.
  • Seventy-eight percent reported that they used cannabis at least once per day.

In response to questions about their overall health, 66 percent rated it as “excellent” or “very good.” Many of the workers, however, experienced musculoskeletal symptoms in the preceding year that lasted more than a week. For example, out of 185 respondents, more than 100 listed back pain, 53 listed discomfort in their hands/wrists/fingers, and 43 listed hip/joint pain.

The respondents also reported experiencing a variety of symptoms related to handling pesticides. About 18 percent experienced skin irritation, 14 percent had headaches or dizziness, and 13 percent suffered eye irritation. The authors note, however, that the respondents generally were not concerned about workplace hazards, including ergonomics, security, plant aerosols, or chemicals.

The workers also generally disagreed that pyschosocial stressors were present at work. They had low perceptions of job-related strain, such as job insecurity, role ambiguity and role overload.

One thing that I noticed in particular in the paper was the workers’ responses to questions about safety training. A quarter of the workers said they had not received any health and safety training when they were hired. Another quarter said they received only minimal training. I agree with the authors’ suggestion that the workers’ lack of concern about workplace safety may be a function of their low recognition and awareness of hazards.

This paper reflects a growing interest by occupational health professionals in Colorado and elsewhere to publicize worker safety information for cannabis workers and employers. Its authors are part of a larger effort by the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment to ensure the industry is safe for consumers, workers, and communities. Last year, the department published a comprehensive guide on workplace safety for the cannabis industry. Browsing the guide, I learned the difference between a cannabis cultivator, trimmer, bud tender, and extraction technician. The guide lists dozens of biological, chemical, and physical hazards to which cannabis workers—depending on their job—might be exposed.

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