Occupational health and safety in cannabis production: an Australian perspective

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health


International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health


School of Medical and Health Sciences




Davidson, M., Reed, S., Oosthuizen, J., O’Donnell, G., Gaur, P., Cross, M., & Dennis, G. (2018). Occupational health and safety in cannabis production: an Australian perspective. International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, 24(3-4). 75-85.

Available here.


The legal Australian cannabis industry has been rapidly expanding due to increased awareness of the plant’s therapeutic potential, as well its diverse range of applications including biofuel, textiles, building materials, food, nutritional supplement, and animal feed. The objective of this paper is to describe the current landscape of the commercial Australian cannabis industry, summarise occupational health and safety (OHS) hazards in cannabis-related working environments, and provide suggestions for safeguarding worker health and well-being in this emerging industry.

A comprehensive search of peer-reviewed and grey literature published between 1900 and 2017 was undertaken to identify case studies and original epidemiological research on OHS hazards associated with the cannabis cultivation and the manufacture of cannabis-based products. The review found that the majority of OHS studies were undertaken in the hemp textile industry during the late twentieth century, with a small number of articles published from a variety of occupational environments including forensic laboratories and recreational marijuana farms. Cannabis harvesting and initial processing is labour intensive, and presents a physical hazard Depending on the operation, workers may also be exposed to a variety of biological, chemical, and physical hazards including: organic dusts, bioaerosols, pollen/allergens, volatile organic compounds, psychoactive substances (tetrahydrocannabinol [THC])), noise, and ultraviolet radiation.

Little research has been undertaken on the exposure to inhalable organic dust and other bioaerosols during the commercial cultivation and manufacture of cannabis-based products. Furthermore, there is an absence of Australian-based research and OHS guidance materials to help professionals develop risk management strategies in this evolving industry.

It is recommended that:

  • Investigation into the toxicological properties of cannabis dusts, specifically in relation to potential occupational exposures during cultivation and manufacture, should be a priority.

  • The interim adoption of the respirable cotton dust exposure standard of 0.2 mg/m3 for workplace exposure in hemp facilities until a cannabis workplace exposure standard is developed, and that exposure to medicinal cannabis containing THC are kept as low as reasonably practicable.

  • An industry partnership be established for the development of an Australian health and safety guideline for the production of medicinal cannabis and hemp.

  • A classification to meet the requirements of the Global Harmonization Scheme should be undertaken to ensure consistency in the use of safety and risk phrases in cannabis-related industries.



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