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NIOSH: Highly repetitive work in cannabis industry increases risk for musculoskeletal disorders

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Washington — Employers in the marijuana industry should provide safeguards to protect workers from repetitive stress injuries, NIOSH states in a recently released Health Hazard Evaluation Program report.

Researchers visited a 5-acre farm in August and October 2015 after receiving a request from the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union to evaluate potential health and safety hazards associated with harvesting and processing cannabis. They interviewed the farm’s owner and three employees, observed work practices, and took hand-force measurements using an electrogoniometer glove. Finally, they collected area and personal air samples.

The researchers found that exposure to highly repetitive work – particularly during hand-trimming activities – increases workers’ risk for musculoskeletal disorders. Although none of the four workers reported musculoskeletal issues, they expressed concerns about long-term injuries from hand-trimming tasks.

The study includes measures marijuana industry employers can take to help protect workers:

  • Change hook line hanging heights to correspond with typical stem length and employee working technique.
  • Provide frequent breaks for employees when they are trimming cannabis by hand.
  • Develop a plan to rotate employees among jobs that use different muscle groups.
  • Instruct workers to clean, lubricate, maintain and sharpen their tools.

The study was published March 2 in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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