Longview paper mill fined for failing to protect workers from COVID

Nov 23, 2021, 8:27 AM
paper mill, covid...
Medical face masks lie in a box. (File photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
(File photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

A paper mill in Longview is appealing a state ruling accusing WestRock Services LLC of failing to protect workers from COVID-19.

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An inspection by the Department of Labor & Industries revealed that during March and April 2021, 15 employees who worked at the same machine at WestRock 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.

Now, the papermaking plant in Cowlitz County is facing nearly $140,000 in fines.

The L&I inspection also revealed that WestRock put production needs ahead of worker health and safety. In one instance, as L&I reports, a machine operator recovering from COVID told the 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 that day after testing positive for COVID that morning.

Instead of sending the second employee home, L&I says WestRock had him remain on the job with supplemental oxygen.

“Employers should never put production before people,” said Joel Sacks, L&I director, in a written release. “COVID is a serious workplace hazard and when employers don’t follow common sense safety and health practices the results can be tragic.”

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L&I has fined WestRock $139,832 for not following COVID protocols and failing to report a death and hospitalizations to the department. There was also a formal complaint filed over concerns about the nurse’s actions.

WestRock has appealed the citation.

The KIRO Radio Newsdesk contributed to this report.

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Longview paper mill fined for failing to protect workers from COVID