OSHA, NIOSH Bulletin Highlights Tobacco Worker Exposures
A bulletin issued recently by OSHA and NIOSH addresses the health hazards facing workers who plant, cultivate, and harvest tobacco, including “green tobacco sickness,” a form of nicotine poisoning. Green tobacco sickness, an illness caused by nicotine exposure from handling tobacco leaves, can cause nausea, vomiting, and other symptoms. Because vomiting can lead to dehydration, tobacco workers suffering from green tobacco sickness are more susceptible to heat illness. The bulletin states that workers are at an increased risk of green tobacco sickness when nicotine in the tobacco leaves dissolves into rain, dew, or sweat, which makes it easier for nicotine to pass into the bloodstream. Symptoms of green tobacco sickness typically don’t last more than 24 hours after workers stop handling tobacco leaves, the bulletin notes; however, there are currently no comprehensive studies that evaluate its long-term effects. Children, adolescents, and workers who are new to handling and harvesting tobacco are at increased risk of suffering from green tobacco sickness. Employers can help reduce workers’ nicotine exposure by providing employees with information and training on nicotine hazards, prevention of green tobacco sickness, and appropriate personal protective equipment. The OSHA/NIOSH bulletin recommends that workers wear gloves, long-sleeve shirts, long pants, and water-resistant clothing to prevent nicotine exposure from tobacco leaves. It’s also recommended that workers wash with soap and water immediately following their shift to reduce exposure.