The Cannibus Control Commission is investigating a Holyoke, Ma. marijuana facility following the death of a worker who inhaled ground cannabis dust on Jan. 7.
The employee, who was filling pre-rolled joints with ground cannabis flower at a cultivation and processing center, told co-workers she couldn’t breathe prior to collapsing. Her death led to an OSHA inspection in June, after which the company was cited for three serious violations with proposed penalties of $35,219.
Those violations were:
- Failure to maintain a written hazard communication plan,
- Failure to keep safety data sheets on hazardous chemicals, and
- Failure to provide information and training on those chemicals.
Each of those was contested by the company.
The Cannabis Control Commission added that it’d already been investigating the facility’s conditions around the time of the employee’s death due to employee complaints originating in Fall 2021.
As for OSHA, you might wonder why only three violations came up in the report. Let’s break it down.
Following a thorough OSHA investigation, inspectors only found that the Tallahassee-based company violated hazard communication standards.
Via a statement following the employee’s death, the company said:
“OSHA conducted a thorough investigation of the Holyoke facility … PPE [personal protection equipment] was available onsite. They (OSHA) tested the air quality throughout the facility and the samples were all well below acceptable ranges.
“OSHA did issue citations related to communication standards and Trulieve has contested those findings.”
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While this investigation didn’t include respiratory health violations, another did. In 2019, its Quincy, Fl. facility was hit with six respiratory protection violations and one for hazard communication. Additionally, in March, a Reading, Pa. facility violated a rule that requires them to report an employee’s hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye.
According to business insider, a former employee spoke out against the company, stating that the respirators in Holyoke weren’t actually for cannabis dust, but for COVID-19. He also said that they were not sufficient enough to help employees with their breathing.
Related Article: Are you using NIOSH approved N95 respirators?
Whether or not that’s the case, this should serve as a prime example of why respiratory protection is of utmost importance on job sites with airborne toxins.
Of note, the findings report stated that the late worker inhaled kief [cannabis dust], which is a powder consisting of trichomes released into the air by cannabis buds. No smoke or vapor seems to be involved, although inhalation of fine particulates is known to be extremely dangerous for the lungs.
The employee’s official cause of death was occupational asthma. It is not known if she was wearing a protective mask.
Why workplace respiratory protection is important
Respiratory protection in the workplace is of utmost importance for both workers and leadership.
According to a recent joint American Thoracic Society and the European Respiratory Society publication, approximately 1-in-10 people worldwide become ill with a range of non-cancerous lung diseases due to workplace respiratory hazards.
Over the past three years, the COVID-19 pandemic normalized the use of respirators in public places. Here in the United States, millions of workers are expected to wear respirators in their various workplaces. These respirators are considered as PPE, designed to protect workers against low oxygen environments, harmful dust particles, fogs, smokes, mists, gases, vapors, microbes in the air, and sprays.
These hazards may cause cancer, lung impairment, diseases, or death, which is why OSHA requires employers to fit test respirators, train employees on respiratory protection, and to gain medical clearances prior to respirator use.
Compliance with the OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard could prevent hundreds of deaths and thousands of illnesses annually. It could also save you and your company from fines, bad press, and even lawsuits.
If you’re not sure if your respiratory protection program is up to par with OSHA standards, Worksite Medical can help with on-site testing. From fit testing and medical exams, to blood work and audiometric testing, we’ll bring the entire clinic to your workplace. Keep your team safe and your workplace complaint with the most convenient, compliant occupational medicine.
We’ll keep you updated with more occupational-health-related news as it comes through.
About Worksite Medical
In most cases, OSHA requires medical surveillance testing, and at no cost to employees.
Worksite Medical makes that program easier with mobile medical testing.
We conduct on-site respirator fit tests, as well as audiometric exams, pulmonary function tests and heavy metal lab work, right on your job site. We also keep accurate, easy-to-access medical records for your convenience. You’ll keep your employees at work, and stay ahead of OSHA inspections.