When referring to occupational injuries, the typical image is of manual labor in industrial manufacturing settings. White not the traditional picture of occupational injuries, the vertically operated cannabis industry may have its own inherent risks for worker safety. Cultivation, retail dispensing, and manufacturing facilities all face their own unique risks towards safety in the workplace; specifically when it comes to ergonomics.
It is reported that one in three workplace injuries are a result of poor ergonomics; with retail leading sector in this upward trend. In the cannabis industry, workers may be required to perform repetitive tasks for extended periods of time such as: trimming, harvesting, rolling, and packaging; to list a few. Repetitive tasks can lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) if proper ergonomics are not observed. MSDs are injuries or disorders that affect the muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, or joints and can cause pain, numbness, or stiffness. To promote worker safety and prevent MSDs in the cannabis industry, employers should consider implementing the following workplace ergonomic practices:
1. Proper Posture
Workers should maintain proper posture while performing tasks. While it may seem overly simplified, reminding employees to stand up straight may be the simplest way to prevent back strain. Routinely exhibiting poor posture is a recipe for chronic back, hip, and knee pain. When a person stands straight, with their shoulders back, stacked above the hips, and hips stacked atop the knees; weight is more evenly distributed reducing the risk of excessive weight on joints such as the knees and ankles.
For tasks where an employee is required to position their body in less optimal positions; they should be made aware, and encouraged to utilize counter stretches to balance the impact of poor posture on their body. This includes the basics, like standing up straight after work that requires kneeling or prolonged periods of sitting. Tasks such as manual trimming can be countered by stretches that focus on decompressing the neck, chest and shoulders. Offering counter postures to combat the effects of repetitive movements is a great way to encourage mobility and reduce risks associated with overuse of muscles that may lead to strains and sprains.
2. Comfortable Workstations
Employers should provide ergonomic chairs, footrests, and work surfaces that are at the proper height.
Workers should have access to tools and equipment that are easy to grip and use. This includes appropriate PPE such as gloves for gripping as opposed to gloves designed to reduce the risk of puncture. Utilizing raised platforms to assist in safe completion of tasks such as laboratory bench work or edibles manufacturing ensures shorter employees are able to work comfortably without risk of strain from outstretched arms and overextension.
3. Proper Lighting
Adequate lighting is crucial in any workplace, but it is especially important in the cannabis industry where workers may be required to examine plants and products for extended periods. Ensuring ample lighting is provided to reduce eye strain and fatigue is one way to combat eye fatigue caused by poor lighting.
On the contrary, in situations where employees are required to routinely work around bright fluorescent lights, employers may consider providing bluelight glasses or indoor/outdoor safety glasses that support light sensitivity to prevent another type of eye strain.
4. Training and Education
Employers should provide training and education on proper ergonomics and safe work practices.
This can include information on how to lift and carry heavy objects, how to use equipment safely, and how to recognize early signs of MSDs. Employee training should be an ongoing process where employees performing the work are encouraged to provide input and feedback on job safety. Assist employees in utilizing quality tools such as Failure, Mode, Effects, Analysis (FMEA) to identify and quantify risks and opportunities for safety improvement throughout the workplace.
5. Consider Automation
When approaching employee safety, seek first to eliminate the hazard.
If possible, hazards should be engineered away. The preferred method of engineering out risks of repetitive tasks is automation.
Employers should consider automating certain tasks to reduce the risk of MSDs. For example, utilizing emerging technology and machines to trim cannabis plants and roll joints, reduces the risk of manual labor.
In situations where it’s not feasible to engineer or automate; consider putting a time limit on employee tasks and rotating employees out of the job to prevent muscle overuse. When implementing administrative changes such as timing and rotation, be sure to formalize the change via the job safety analysis (JSA) and standard operating procedures (SOP). Employees should always be formally trained on current and updated practices anytime changes are made.
By implementing these best practices, employers can reduce the risk of ergonomic injuries and MSDs. OSHA defines ergonomics as “the science of adapting workstations, tools, equipment and job techniques to be compatible with human anatomy and physiology to reduce the risk of Musculoskeletal Disorder injuries due to Ergonomic Stressors. This means that employers have a responsibility to design the job/ task to fit the person rather than expecting employees to fit the job. Employers’ responsibilities toward worker safety are detailed in section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act, OSHA general duty clause.
Talya Mayfield is the CEO and Principal consultant for Delta Compliance Consulting. Talya has a B.S. in Biology, an M.S. in Industrial Engineering Management, and a Certificate in Lean Six Sigma.
She spent 8 years in cement manufacturing and hazardous waste working on a range of environmental compliance requirements, from improving safety and employee exposure, to hazardous material management and disposal permitting.
She has now merged this expertise with her love of all things cannabis, and launched Delta Compliance Consulting to help cannabis operators run safe, compliant and successful facilities.
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