Personal Protective Equipment for the Cultivation and Processing of Cannabis

Personal Protective Equipment for the Cultivation and Processing of Cannabis

This blog will be addressing general Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) needs for cannabis facilities. In the hierarchy of hazard controls, PPE is the least effective. Before PPE , the hazard(s) should be eliminated or first controlled through: substitution, engineering, and administrative controls. 

When wearing PPE remind yourself to be aware of the hazard and not get lulled into a false sense of security. These are the last line of defense for any hazard and do not give one hundred percent protection. Misuse may result in sickness or death.  One common misunderstanding is that respirators will protect you in all hazardous atmospheres. AIR-PURIFYING RESPIRATORS DO NOT CREATE OXYGEN. If you wear a respirator in an atmosphere depleted of oxygen you will not be protected. 

Managers should get smart before choosing a PPE by studying the hazardous materials labels, safety data sheets and the manufacturers’ manuals for tools and machinery.  

The facility should also perform and document a PPE Hazard Assessment for each hazardous work area and each hazardous job and task. 

It is the responsibility of the employer to provide PPE for its employees. The following are the most common PPE in cannabis facilities. 

  • Eyes/Face 

Sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection are required in a greenhouse with natural sun UV or in indoor grows with metal halide and high pressure sodium light bulbs. 

Safety glasses/goggles are needed when working around airborne dust and flying particles, such as construction dust, mixing soil/hydroponic medium, chipping plant waste material, and trimming machines. Safety goggles should be worn over prescription glasses and sunglasses to add extra side protection.

Face shields should be worn when mixing hazardous chemicals such as: pesticides, cleaning chemicals (especially bleach), corrosives (PH up and PH down).  Combined with safety glasses/goggles, face shields provide extra protection from splashes. 

  • Head:. 

Hats, especially big brimmed sunhats or ball caps, should be worn in UV environments (greenhouses, indoor grows).

Hair nets or hats should be mandatory when working around the plant at any stage or working with the extracted or infused product, as a quality control measure, to prevent hair from entering the product. 

 

  • Hands

Protection for hands can be the most difficult PPE selection but the rule of thumb is to ensure that the glove material is sufficient for the hazard. Defer to the chemical manufacturer’s recommendation on the label or safety data sheet for hazardous chemicals, i.e. corrosives, pesticides, cleaning chemicals, 

Work gloves: For general construction usually you will need a glove to protect from multiple hazards, you will need a work glove. Different work gloves offer different types of protection, including oil resistance, cut resistance, extra cushion to minimize vibration, water proof material and insulation from cold temperatures. Make sure your work glove protection is matched with the hazards you are working with. 

Gardening gloves are usually thinner than work gloves and provide more dexterity. These gloves are typically used for planting, transplanting, pruning and harvesting. Some gardening gloves provide protection from cuts with cut resistant material. 

Disposable gloves:. 

Latex gloves:. Due to a common allergy and sensitivity to latex gloves are losing popularity. Latex disposable gloves are most commonly used with first aid operations in accordance with universal precautions to bloodborne pathogens. 

Nitrile gloves are the most common glove in a cannabis cultivation and processing facility. These gloves can be used as a quality control measure while handling the plant and extracted and infused products. Nitrile gloves can be acceptable protections for corrosives, nutrients, pesticides, and cleaning chemicals including bleach, solvents and for first aid precautions. 

Chemical Resistant Gloves: This is a very large category of gloves. Disposable nitrile gloves offer some chemical resistance, but in many cases they do not offer enough. Again refer to the hazardous chemicals label and or safety data sheet to identify the specific material and thickness needed. Chemical resistant gloves vary in thickness and length. Some are shoulder length to protect the entire arm. Typical chemical resistant materials are: nitrile, latex PVC, and neoprene. 

  • Feet

Safety boots with toe protection are needed for construction protections and electrical resistant soles may also be needed. A general requirement for all facilities should be closed shoes, meaning no open toed shoes or sandals.  

Anti slip/chemical resistant footwear. For most jobs and tasks within a cultivation and processing facility shoes that are anti slip and chemical resistant should be worn.  Materials that can absorb pesticides such as leather and typical sneaker fabric should be discouraged. Chef clogs offer good slip and chemical resistance as well as decent electrical resistance. 

Best practices  Shoes worn in an area with recent pesticide application should either be left at the facility or washed and decontaminated before leaving the facility. 

  • Body/Skin: 

Sunscreen: Growers should be provided with sunscreen for protection from UV. 

Lab coats  When dealing with corrosives or solvents, like in the extraction processes, lab coats can provide adequate protection. 

Long pants:  For most chemical hazards long pants are sufficient. 

Disposable coveralls can provide a safe and cheap options for full body protection from some chemicals, but they are probably better suited to provide quality control and assurance for the plant and products.

Rain gear: PVC vinyl (not Gortex) can offer additional  protection when dealing with pesticides. Rain coats or slickers with water proof pants, rubber boots, chemical resistant gloves ducked taped to the coat will be your best line of defense for skin against pesticide exposure. Rain gear is also easy to decontaminate after use. 

Fall equipment:  In jobs working from heights from four feet or more fall arrest/restraint systems may be needed. Including: body harnesses, lanyards, lifelines, carabiners, anchorage points, and other fall arrests and protection systems. 

  • Ears

Ear plugs and muffs:  Employees working around construction noises such as power tools and heavy machinery should have hearing protection available. If a facility has noise above 85 decibels hearing protection and training is required. Extraction and infusion processes are typical the loudest operations in the industry. Employees should have multiple options including one plug and one muff to provide them with a comfortable option for their body type. 

  • Lungs

Dust masks:  For areas with small amounts of dust and dirt, dust masks should be used. Make sure these masks have at least two straps and a nose clip for custom fit and  meet NIOSH N95 standards.

Respirators: Respirators can be used voluntarily for extra precaution, or required by the hazardous material label and/or safety data sheet. OSHA and the EPA or State Agriculture Department (when used with pesticides) require the facility to have a written respiratory protection program. These programs should include proper respirator selection, a fit test, medical evaluation, maintenance, storage, and training for the hazard the employee is exposed and proper respirator use. (I will go into the program deeper in future blogs).

The two most common respirators found in cultivation facilities are the half-mask and full-mask respirators. The full-mask gives your face and eyes added protection with a face shield. Both masks take two cartridges or filters. All respirators, filters and cartridges need to meet NIOSH requirements.  

Respirators known as air purifying do not create oxygen.  They can be broken into two categories for particulates with replaceable filters and for gases/vapors with canisters or cartridges.  Protection from pesticides would require an air purifying respirator with a vapor cartridge. These cartridges only offer protection for a specified duration and may require a log to document the time used to determine its end of life and the need for disposal and new cartridges. Some but not all cartridges have end of life indicators to make the disposable and replacement easy.  

Respirator documentation and requirements make their voluntary use less desirable. If you use a pesticide or chemical that requires respirator use, be aware of the legal ramifications for you and your facility. This is not a complete list of PPE for cannabis facilities, be aware of specific hazards to your facility before you choose any PPE. Contact us with any questions.