NIOSH logo and tagline

Cannabis Flower Technician Experiences Fatal Asthma Exacerbation — Massachusetts

Massachusetts Case Report: 22MA002
Release Date: November 16, 2023


On January 4, 2022, a 27-year-old White non-Hispanic female flower production technician at an indoor cannabis cultivation and processing facility experienced an asthma exacerbation. She was working with dried, ground cannabis and became short of breath and ultimately stopped breathing and lost consciousness. Staff at the site called 911 and began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). She was transported to a regional trauma center where she remained on life support until she died on January 7. The Massachusetts FACE Program learned of the incident from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on January 13, 2022, and initiated steps to collect relevant documentation to investigate the event. Several records were reviewed in the course of the investigation, including data from the electronic death registration system (death certificate); medical records from the January event and one prior asthma exacerbation at the workplace requiring transport by ambulance to the local hospital; additional prior medical records describing her health history; public obituary and news coverage; and records from OSHA, including publicly available records listing citations and abatement steps recommended in the hazard alert letter. Massachusetts FACE staff spoke with the next of kin of the worker to gather a more detailed health history. Massachusetts FACE staff also spoke with representatives from the company and toured the facility with senior site safety staff to view the equipment and workspace and discuss the event and safety and health policies.

Key contributing factors identified in this investigation include:

  • Failure to recognize ground cannabis as a potential occupational respiratory hazard
  • Failure to adequately control the spread of airborne cannabis dust
  • Lack of a comprehensive safety and health program and overall safety training

Massachusetts FACE investigators concluded that, to help prevent similar occurrences, employers should:

  • Assess and control hazardous materials in the workplace, including asthmagens.
  • Ensure that all workers are properly trained about hazardous materials in the workplace.
  • Develop and implement a comprehensive safety and health program that addresses hazard recognition, avoidance of unsafe conditions, and proper use of equipment.

Cannabis Flower Technician Experiences Fatal Asthma Exacerbation — Massachusetts