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Repetitive Motion Injuries in the Cannabis Industry

8 June 2023 / Category: Blog
Man Holding His Elbow - Banner Image for A Case of Repetitive Motion Injury in the Cannabis Industry Blog

Repetitive motion injuries, also known as repetitive stress injuries, are injuries to nerves, muscles, tendons and ligaments which are caused by having to perform the same movement or motion over and over again. People who have repetitive motion injuries may have pain, swelling or tenderness on a specific part of their body.

A variety of businesses require tasks that have repetitive motions including businesses in the cannabis industry. Cannabis operations often have tasks such as the lifting of heavy objects to transport from point A to B, desk work and standing for periods of time.

As with any industry, cannabis businesses are required to comply with the provisions of the Occupation Safety and Health Act of 1972. Under this law, all employers are required to provide a safe workplace, educate all employees in the hazards of the workplace and their rights to report work-related injuries. Employees of cannabis businesses must also be covered by workers’ compensation in the event they are injured at work.

The National Cannabis Risk Management Association (NCRMA) offers courses in ergonomics for cannabis workers and employers to help them identify and control ergonomic hazards, develop optimal workflows and implement best practices. The NCRMA also advises cannabis businesses to follow the California Ergonomics Standard, which is a state regulation that requires employers to establish an ergonomics program when two or more workers report repetitive motion injuries within a 12-month period. The program must include a worksite evaluation, control measures, training and recordkeeping. The California Ergonomics Standard could become a national standard as more states look to California as a model for cannabis regulation and production.

An Example of Repetitive Motion in the Cannabis Industry

In the cannabis industry, there are common repetitive motion tasks such as pruning and harvesting that are similar to regular agricultural operations. However, the cannabis operations perform a unique method when trimming cannabis.

There are many ways to trim cannabis; wet trimming, dry trimming, machine trimming and pre-harvest trimming. All of which prepare the flower for the final product. The employees who are assigned to do the job are often the ones who encounter repetitive stress injuries as they usually work extended hours on any working day thus causing their hands to get stiff.

Yes, the trimming process can be done or automated by machines, but hand trimming is the preferred method, because it leads to a thorough trim that produces attractive and top-notch buds. Additionally, hand trimming is cost efficient and convenient for the start-ups in the industry.

Trimming is a time-consuming task, and it can take a major toll on the health of trimmers leading to repetitive motion injuries that can then affect the levels of productivity.

Repetitive Motion Injuries and Ergonomics

Ergonomics is at the forefront in the prevention of repetitive motion injuries. It is defined as an applied science concerned with designing and arranging common use items in order to improve the efficiency and safety of usage. Ergonomics is associated with requirements in maintaining the safety of workplaces.

As a countermeasure to repetitive motion injuries hazards, which can bring long term injuries to the employees, here are some workplace adjustments that can help mitigate the risk and protect cannabis workers: (excerpts from the HHE Report No. 2015-0111-3271, April 2017).

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

Cannabis employees can:

  • Wear nonlatex gloves when handling cannabis, cannabis products, or equipment that contacts cannabis.
  • Wash their skin with soap and water after removing gloves.
  • Clean work surfaces after processing cannabis material

In Conclusion

Repetitive motion injuries brought by consistent and tedious tasks such as trimming, can be mitigated with by associating ergonomics with the development of a safeguarding plan to prevent exposure to the hazard.

Employees or workers of any industry play a vital role in the consistency of the labor and the outcome quality of their products. Making sure that their health concerns are noticed and cared for is one of the best ways in preventing the worsening and spreading of hazards.

Last but not least, some tips to prevent repetitive motion injuries: