BOSTON (State House News Service) — State public health officials on Thursday detailed steps the cannabis industry should be taking to prevent work-related asthma and sent a bulletin to health care providers urging them to be vigilant in identifying work-related asthma among cannabis workers.
The Department of Public Health said an investigation it conducted with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) "confirmed that the first known occupational asthma fatality in the US cannabis workforce happened last year in Massachusetts." In January 2022, a 27-year-old cannabis cultivation facility worker, Lorna McMurrey, died after a shift at Trulieve's Holyoke facility. OSHA fined the company $35,200 upon finding that McMurrey inhaled ground cannabis dust and could not breathe.
"The legalized cannabis industry in Massachusetts is relatively new and the impact on the health and safety of workers demands our careful attention," Public Health Commissioner Robert Goldstein said. "As this workforce continues to expand, it will require all of us working together – state and federal agencies, regulators, healthcare providers, and the cannabis industry – to improve working conditions for these employees."
DPH's Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) program recommended in its report that employers assess and control hazardous materials in the workplace, ensure that all workers are properly trained about hazardous materials in the workplace, develop and implement a comprehensive safety and health program, and implement a medical surveillance program to monitor the health of their workers. It also said the Cannabis Control Commission "should consider how they can further support the health and safety of cannabis industry workers."
The CCC, which circulated DPH's report and bulletin Thursday, said the findings "will be valuable tools in our continued efforts to ensure worker protections are strong at licensed marijuana facilities."
"We welcome DPH's recommendation that the Commission share identified best practices with licensees and their employees to ensure they have awareness of all known harms in the cannabis workplace. To that end, the Commission is making these important findings immediately available to our constituents," the agency said. "In general, scientific understanding like this will help keep our agents safe, and we look forward to ongoing research into all health issues associated with our developing industry to ensure workers, patients, and consumers know the risks."
Written by Colin A. Young/SHNS