When It Comes to Cannabis Workplace Injuries, the Eyes Have It

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All workplaces can be hazardous. Even your garden variety cubicle-farm office is required to have safety guidelines posted in visible places, usually in the break room, from OSHA, the federal Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

About 350 of Colorado's 31,000 cannabis workers recorded minor workplace injuries last year.

As the legal cannabis industry moves into more states, there’s a growing awareness that working in a cannabis production facility, dispensary, or other parts of the industry can also have risks.

In Colorado, one of the state’s largest worker’s compensation insurance firms has released some unique data regarding the cannabis industry’s most common occupational injury trends.

According to the analysis by Pinnacol Assurance, about 350 Colorado residents working in the retail, cultivation, manufacturing, clerical support and transportation side of the cannabis industry were injured on the job last year.

The five most common causes of injury in these businesses were strains, cuts, and then falls or slips, followed by “struck by” (being hit by something) and  “strike” (person hitting something) injuries.

And the most common types of injuries among cannabis business employees were reportedly contusions, strains, lacerations, sprains, “foreign body” and burns.

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Eye Issues

Jim McMillen, Pinnacol’s director of safety services, noted that there was a “concerning” number of eye injuries, in particular “foreign body to eye” injuries, for Colorado cannabis workers last year.

“Eye injuries are quite common in the cannabis industry,” he said in a press statement released on Tuesday, “and are very easily preventable with a small investment in eye protection (safety glasses) and a plan to enforce their use.”

Along with concerns about serious vision issues, Pinnocol said the average cost of an eye injury is nearly $2,000.

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April Is the Safest Month

Some other highlights of from Pinnacol’s claims data:

  • April is the safest month for cannabis workers, despite all the 4/20 events and promotions. Most of the worker’s compensation claims in Colorado’s cannabis sector reportedly occur towards the end of the year.
  • Younger men, ages 20 to 29, made up 70% of those injured.
  • As in other mainstream industries, cannabis workers are most at risk of injuries during their first six months on the job—with 38% of all injuries taking place in that time period.
  • Most of the injury claims—76%—occurred during normal business hours, with the majority of those injuries taking place between 10:00 a.m. and noon.

Strain Injuries

Cannabis industry experts didn’t find too many surprises in the Pinnacol data.

“In my experience, the workforce in this industry is predominantly young and male, so the age and gender statistics make sense,” Jason Crosby, an attorney and consultant in the law office of Lauren Davis, which focuses on cannabis industry laws, told Leafly.  “Some of the most common roles in production, like trimming, involve repetitive motions over long periods, so ‘strain’ as the most frequent type of injury also makes sense to me.”

As the cannabis industry matures, companies are expected to add safety managers and focusing on ergonomic, materials handling and fall protection risk mitigation.

But Chris Cassese, managing partner of Faces Human Capital Management, a Denver-based company that focuses on workforce and human resource issues for the cannabis industry, believes the study might be overstating the costs and risks of occupational issues in the cannabis sector.

“We have not seen these injuries as a large issue in cannabis related businesses as opposed to other manufacturing or light industrial businesses,” he said in an email to Leafly.

For example the cost given for eye injuries, he said, might be lessened by the creation of eye wash stations in the cannabis workplace, similar to what are used in other industries.

“Overall, the underlying problem seems to be simple education and additional employer guidance from insurance carriers as to how to best mitigate these small issues in a terrific industry,” he added.

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A Relatively Safe Industry, Overall

Leafly’s recent Cannabis Jobs Count report estimated there were around 31,000 full-time employees in Colorado’s legal marijuana industry near the end of 2018, so 350 injuries represents about 1% of the state’s cannabis workforce.

Pinnacol’s McMillen believes the cannabis industry as a whole is relatively safe when compared with other cultivation, retail and manufacturing jobs in Colorado, possibly because the industry is so highly regulated.

“As the cannabis industry continues to mature in Colorado, we see companies increasingly adding safety managers and focusing on basic ergonomic, materials handling and fall protection risk mitigation,” he said.