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In Mass., 51 workers died on the job last year

A new report spotlights occupational hazards, including in cannabis industry

A marijuana cultivation and production facility in Holyoke owned by Florida-based Trulieve. Lorna McMurrey was 27 when she collapsed after inhaling cannabis dust at the facility in Holyoke early last year.Trulieve

Lorna McMurrey was 27 when she collapsed after inhaling cannabis dust at a production facility in Holyoke early last year. It was the second time in two months she’d been rushed to the hospital because she couldn’t breathe at her job filling pre-rolled joints. She died a few days later.

McMurrey was one of 51 workplace fatalities in Massachusetts last year, according to the annual “Dying for Work” report released Thursday by the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, or MassCOSH, and the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. The emerging cannabis industry was singled out in the report for failing to protect employees even as strict controls have been put in place to protect consumers.


Transportation-related accidents such as motor vehicle crashes or workers being hit by equipment once again were the leading cause of death among the 39 workers killed by injuries on the job. And as in previous years, worker deaths in Massachusetts were concentrated in the construction industry, which accounted for almost a quarter of fatal injuries.

An additional 12 people died from occupational diseases, including 10 firefighters who succumbed to work-related cancer and heart conditions. Overall, the number of job-related fatalities in 2022 was down from 62 the year before, and from more than 70 in 2018 and 2019.

The report also notes that 9 people died from suicide on the job last year, and 16 from overdoses, down from 13 and 25, respectively, in 2021.

Deaths from exposure to COVID at work aren’t tracked, and while those risks have receded, the pandemic has left a permanent imprint on workplace safety, according to Al Vega, co-director of MassCOSH. Workers are dealing with understaffing and burnout; beleaguered employers are increasingly trying to save money, and make up for the labor shortage, by using staffing agencies to fill jobs, and these temp workers have fewer protections than regular employees.


“We still have employers and subcontractors playing a game with workers’ lives by saying they’re not the ones responsible for their safety and ... pointing fingers at each other,” Vega said.

Nationwide, the fatality rate for Black workers increased from 3.5 to 4 per 100,000 workers between 2020 and 2021, the highest rate in more than a decade, according to a new report by the AFL-CIO. Latinos have an even greater risk of dying on the job, with 4.5 fatalities per 100,000, the majority of them immigrants. For white workers, the rate is 3.4, and 1.9 for Asian-American employees.

A South Easton construction worker was killed last March when a portion of Boston’s Government Center garage collapsed during a demolition project. As in previous years, worker deaths in Massachusetts in 2022 were concentrated in the construction industry, which accounted for almost a quarter of fatal injuries.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

In Massachusetts, the overall worker fatality rate in 2021 was 2.9 per 100,000, below the national average of 3.6, according to the AFL-CIO. Eighteen Latino workers were killed on the job in the state in 2021, the highest number since at least 2002.

Trulieve, the employer of the Massachusetts worker who died in Holyoke, was called out as one of a “Dirty Dozen” employers by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, which on Wednesday released its annual report focusing on 12 companies that put workers at risk. Florida-based Trulieve, one of the largest marijuana companies in the country with several locations in Massachusetts, was being investigated for safety concerns by state marijuana regulators before Lorna McMurrey died. The investigation is still pending, according to the Cannabis Control Commission. The company has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration seven times since 2019, according to the report, including for an incident involving a Pennsylvania worker who suffered a nonfatal electrocution.


McMurrey had no preexisting asthmatic conditions before she started working at Trulieve, said her cousin Alisha Bounds, and only developed breathing problems after the company took away face masks it had been providing.

“The entire thing was completely preventable,” Bounds said on a press call with National COSH.

After an investigation following McMurrey’s death, OSHA fined the company $35,000 but reached a settlement to reduce it to $14,500 for failing to conduct a hazard analysis. OSHA originally attributed her death to “occupational asthma due to exposure to ground cannabis dust” but exonerated Trulieve of direct responsibility; the current OSHA report, updated following the settlement agreement, now simply states the cause of death was a “presumed asthma attack.” Trulieve was also required to conduct a study to determine if ground cannabis dust is a hazardous chemical and implement an employee protection program to alert workers to potential allergic reactions.

Trulieve said in a statement that after learning of “possible allergen concerns related to cannabis dust” it conducted research and now leads the industry in cannabis production safety precautions. “Based on a growing body of research and in consultation with safety professionals ...Trulieve is implementing an industry-leading Cannabis Allergen Awareness Program in the occupational setting,” the company said. Trulieve did not provide details about the awareness program or the safety precautions it has implemented.


Another company named in the “Dirty Dozen” report is Swissport International AG, a firm that provides cleaning and baggage handling for airlines and operates at 292 airports around the world, including Logan Airport. Workers face unsafe conditions, such as exposure to human waste, and face retaliation when they speak out, according to the report. Swissport refuted the charges and said in a statement that it complies with all labor laws and that employee health and safety is its highest priority.

The rate of injury or illness among Swissport workers is higher than in comparable companies with more than 50 employees per worksite, according to the Service Employees International Union, which is organizing the workers at Logan through SEIU Local 32BJ. The rates at three Logan Airport locations were among the highest of 31 sites analyzed by SEIU, including one in Boston in which the injury and illness rate was more than double the industry average.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story did not include a response from Swissport, which arrived after the story was published, and did not reference a revised OSHA report on Trulieve. The story has been updated to include that information.

Katie Johnston can be reached at katie.johnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.