Safety when using high-pressured equipment for processing cannabis

Demand for cannabis remains steady, and on-going training is essential for workers using new technology and tools to process, store, receive, and ship products.  

Close up photo of cannabis flowers growing in a factory, with a worker in the background

Photo credit: BZAM Ltd., used with permission

Ever since cannabis was legalized in 2018, Canadians have seen many new products become available. The industry uses new types of machinery and processes for extracting active ingredients from cannabis plants. Therefore, ongoing training is essential to ensure workers stay safe in this growing industry.

“When manufacturers come to install new equipment, they show us how to use it,” says Lawrence Ogbeni, health and safety manager of BZAM Ltd. “Then we have in-house training.”

Cannabis extraction often involves high-pressure processes that can create a risk to workers. In October 2022, WorkSafeBC published a risk advisory on Dangers of extracting cannabis using equipment at high pressure. It aims to help employers identify hazards, assess risks, and consider effective controls.

The following are examples of situations in which uncontrolled pressure releases during the cannabis extraction process can cause a pressure blast:

  • Failure of pressurized equipment components such as sanitary clamps
  • Discharge of a pressure relief valve into the facility
  • Clogged gauges or lines misleading operators to believe the system is depressurized
  • Opening a pressure vessel while it’s under pressure

“If you open a tank when the pressure is really high, that could cause a lot of damage – not just to you, but also to anyone else around you,” Lawrence says.

This is where effective and reliable control measures to prevent serious injuries come into place.

Air contaminants or airborne chemicals must be monitored constantly, as well. Says Lawrence: “Don’t forget that when you’re using equipment for extracting, it needs to be up to standard. That’s a huge one. If we don’t have a very good extraction system, or HVAC system, fuel building up in the room could blow up.”

Canada’s first workplace safety-certified cannabis employer

BZAM is the first cannabis industry employer in Canada to earn workplace health and safety certification, earning certificate of recognition (COR) in June 2022. (Read this media release for more details.)

Lawrence says: “I take safety very seriously and I try as much as I can to administer it on all levels. When I came into the company, I told my boss that the first thing I wanted to work on was getting COR certified.”

In addition to pressure vessels, hazards that workers and employers in the cannabis industry need to be aware of include:

  • Biological agents (e.g., viruses, bacteria, fungi)
  • Chemical agents (e.g., pesticides, fertilizers and nutrients, cleaners and sanitizers, carbon dioxide used to promote plant growth)
  • Non-ionizing radiation from artificial light sources
  • Electrical systems
  • Lifting and materials handling

For more information on the above, see my post, Cultivating safety in a growing cannabis industry. Also see Ask an officer: Managing risks in cannabis processing in the May/June 2022 issue of WorkSafe Magazine.

Thanks to Lawrence for speaking of safety with me.

Share this safety message:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *