Recent guidelines to protect workers inside Massachusetts cannabis production facilities

Nearly two years after a Massachusetts cannabis worker died, federal and local health agencies are now releasing new guidance to protect workers.
Published: Nov. 16, 2023 at 9:54 PM EST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) - Nearly two years after a Massachusetts cannabis worker died, federal and local health agencies are now releasing new guidance to protect workers inside facilities.

Some of those measures including making sure employees are correctly wearing personal protective equipment and also the possible health hazards that come along with working there.

Western Mass News spoke with people who work in the industry and they told us these are welcomed, but not surprising, changes.

CDC issued a report Thursday, that told the story of a 27-year-old Massachusetts woman who died after experiencing worsening respiratory symptoms while working at a cannabis processing facility. They said its the industry’s first occupational asthma death.

The report said:

“This case illustrates missed opportunities for prevention, including control of workplace exposures, medical surveillance, and treatment according to current asthma guidelines.”

-Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

It explains the employee began to work at the facility in May 2021 and would go on to develop respiratory symptoms three to four months later.

While the worker in the study wasn’t identified, Western Mass News have been closely covering the death of a Lorna McMurrey, a Holyoke cannabis worker who died of a fatal asthma attack in January 2022.

According to the CDC’s report, inhaling the dust found in cannabis production facilities can cause occupational asthma that severe enough to be fatal.

Now, the agency is calling for more strategies to protect workers, including the correct use to personal protective equipment (PPE) to make sure employees are aware of the risk for occupational allergies.

Now, those in the cannabis industry are reacting…

Julia Argon who works with the Human Connection, an organization that works with cannabis companies, said these emerging guidelines are expected.

“We’re a fairly young industry and particularly both manufacturing and agriculture are heavily regulated sectors so to have increasing understanding how to keep employees safe and how to best regulate this industry, nothing about that is surprising,” explained Argon.

Those in the education sector are looking forward, Holyoke Community College’s Vice President of Business and Community Service told us, this case will become a learning moment for students.

“This is a tragic loss of life and so hopefully we can learn from that and focus training and education on ways that can help people be safe,” expressed Jeffrey Hayden.

The Massachusetts Cannabis Commission also weighed in on Thursday’s discussion. They issued a statement that said they welcome the department of health’s recommendation and are making sure their constituents are aware of the CDC’s findings.