Longview paper mill fined nearly $140,000 for failing to protect workers from COVID-19
TUMWATER – A Cowlitz County papermaking plant is facing nearly $140,000 in fines after one worker died and more than a dozen machine operators got sick with coronavirus (COVID-19).
An inspection by the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) revealed that during March and April 2021, 15 workers who worked at the same machine at WestRock Services LLC tested positive for COVID-19. Of the 15, one worker died and two others were hospitalized from complications of the virus. Neither the death nor the hospitalizations were reported to L&I as required.
The inspection also revealed that WestRock put production needs ahead of worker health and safety. In one instance, a machine operator recovering from coronavirus told WestRock’s onsite nurse he was having difficulty walking, was in pain, and was having shortness of breath. Another worker at the same machine had already been sent home after testing positive for COVID-19 the same morning. Losing a second worker would have added to the growing list of unavailable workforce and instead of sending a sick employee home, WestRock had him remain on the job with supplemental oxygen.
“Employers should never put production before people,” said Joel Sacks, L&I director. “COVID is a serious workplace hazard and when employers don’t follow common sense safety and health practices the results can be tragic.”
In total, L&I fined WestRock $139,832.00 for not following COVID-19 protocols and failing to report a death and hospitalizations to L&I. A formal complaint was filed with the Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission under the Washington State Department of Health due to concerns about the nurse’s actions.
WestRock has appealed the citation. Money from fines is placed in the workers compensation supplemental pension fund, helping injured workers and families of those who have died on the job.
Dina Lorraine, L&I Public Affairs, 360-972-4868