As the legal cannabis industry matures, cannabis-related work hazards are emerging. The recent death of a cannabis worker in Massachusetts, the first fatality in the United States from occupational asthma due to exposure to cannabis dust, brings to light a dangerous hazard in legal cannabis processing.

Workers in the cannabis industry are at risk of developing allergies due to repeated exposure as part of their job duties. This allergic reaction can occur from exposure to the cannabis plant itself as well as mold that may contaminate the product.

How exposures occur

Employee exposure can occur if skin comes in contact with the plant, by breathing in cannabis dust, or from eating or inhaling cannabis products. Repeated exposure can put your worker at a higher risk of developing an allergy to cannabis.

Symptoms of exposure

The symptoms of cannabis allergies vary depending on how a person was exposed. Contact or touching the plant can result in a worker breaking out in rashes, hives, or swellings called angioedema. Breathing or inhaling cannabis allergens can result in nasal or eye allergy symptoms. This includes runny nose, sneezing, itching, swelling, and watery eyes. Asthma with wheezing and shortness of breath can occur. Anaphylaxis has also been reported. This most commonly occurs with hempseed ingestion.

Controlling the exposure

To limit skin contact with the plant, workers should wear long sleeves and gloves when handling or processing plants.

Limit grinding operations to enclosed spaces with good airflow, and supply employees with PPE such as N95 masks to reduce inhalation of the dust.

Employee training

Train your workers on the potential hazards of working with cannabis. Make sure they’re aware of the different symptoms before working with cannabis products.

Employers should treat cannabis exposures in the workplace the same way they would any other potentially hazardous occupational exposure. Include procedures, training, and controls as part of the company’s Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP) to keep employees safe and healthy. If an employee develops signs or symptoms of exposure, get proper medical care right away and then start your accident investigation.