A recent analysis published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report” on November 17 revealed the first recognized death connected to the U.S. cannabis industry. This unfortunate event draws attention to imperative opportunities for prevention that were missed. The published CDC report encompasses the findings of an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigation, which involved assessing workplace exposure, conducting interviews with coworkers and next-of-kin, examining medical records, and collaborating with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Though the particular worker and their employer remain undisclosed, the circumstances align with a death that took place in January 2020 at a Trulieve Cannabis facility in Holyoke, Massachusetts.
Workplace Hazards Contributing to Marijuana Production
The affected individual reportedly suffered a collapse at work and was diagnosed with “anoxic brain death,” according to a case report cited by the CDC. An initial OSHA report claimed that the employee had been grinding cannabis flowers and died as a result of hazards linked to ground cannabis dust. However, a subsequent OSHA report did not state a specific cause of death.
These findings underscore potential health risks inherent to marijuana production, mainly since workers from other states have reported similar work-related breathing difficulties. It is critical to evaluate employees who develop new or worsening asthma symptoms for potential work-related exposures and recognize that employment in cannabis production could be a contributing factor.
The Importance of Vigilance and Timely Intervention
According to the CDC report, the employee had been experiencing health problems for several months before their collapse at work. In July 2021, they initially reported symptoms such as nausea, loss of taste and smell, earache, and coughing; however, COVID-19 tests were all negative. On November 9, 2021, the worker experienced difficulty breathing while at work and was subsequently transported by emergency medical services to a nearby hospital. They mentioned being potentially allergic to something at their workplace due to having had a persistent cough and runny nose for over a month.
On January 4, 2022, the day the worker collapsed at their place of employment, they informed a coworker that their shortness of breath had been progressively getting worse over the previous two weeks.
Improving Workplace Safety Measures in Cannabis Production Facilities
In the wake of this tragic event, both employers and employees need to take proactive measures to minimize further health-related incidents within the cannabis industry. Employers should ensure adequate safety protocols, conduct thorough air quality assessments, provide proper protective gear for workers, and implement comprehensive training on handling hazardous substances to minimize potential risks posed by exposure to cannabis dust and other harmful chemicals.
Employees should report any unusual symptoms or health concerns promptly, ensuring clear communication with their supervisors and seeking medical evaluation immediately. Early intervention can potentially prevent severe health consequences and protect workers from enduring similar tragedies.
Raising Awareness and Encouraging Open Dialogue
The first recognized death in the U.S. cannabis industry offers a crucial opportunity to raise awareness about the hazards related to marijuana production and promote open discussion concerning workplace safety. By shedding light on these issues, industry leaders, regulatory agencies, and workers alike can collaborate to develop safer standards and best practices to enhance workplace conditions and protect the health of employees.
A Call for Industry-Wide Action
This preventable tragedy serves as a sobering reminder that the rapid growth of the cannabis industry should not overshadow the importance of ensuring worker safety and well-being. By recognizing the potential hazards lurking within the production process, investing in necessary protective measures, and fostering a culture that values the welfare of its workforce, the cannabis sector can continue to thrive while safeguarding the people who make it all possible.