Washington Prisons Found Negligent in Exposing Inmate-Workers to Asbestos

asbestos exposureThe Washington State Department of Corrections must close down a 40-year old program staffed by prison inmates who have been tasked with removing asbestos from prison facilities.

After determining that these inmate workers were exposed to hazardous asbestos dust, the Department of Labor and Industries fined the DOC $140,000. However, according to Workers Compensation Attorneys the penalty was recently reduced to $70,000 in a course settlement.

A spokesperson for the DOC stated that the shutdown of their asbestos removal program was not connected to the L&I fine.

According to report findings, the DOC instructed inmates to sweep flooring tile that contained asbestos during a renovation project at the Washington Corrections Center for Women. Investigators found that the use of respirators was not enforced, and many workers did not wear them.

Elaine Fischer, and official with the Department of Labor and Industries,  reported that five of the violations were determined to be negligent and willful. “That means that the employer knew, or should have known, or disregarded the safety regulations regarding the procedures for handling the materials containing asbestos,” Fischer said.

“The potential for exposure is present all of the time. And the consequences are huge,” Fischer said. “You may not know you’re exposed. You may not realize the seriousness of it, but 30 years later you develop asbestos-related lung disease or cancer.”

Under the settlement, the DOC declined to admit guilt. Moreover, the DOC disputed the determination that employees or inmates were exposed to asbestos dust in the first place. Yet in a statement, the DOC says it regrets that state regulations weren’t followed in handling asbestos.

Under the deal, the DOC will train about a thousand employees on how to handle asbestos using proper safety precautions. The department will also purchase additional safety equipment for workers, including respirators.

Asbestos is a known and highly dangerous carcinogen. Studies show that exposure to asbestos causes mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer. If you have been exposed to this substance or experienced any other work injury, or want to appeal a denied L&I claim, an Employment Attorney at Emery Reddy can represent your interests. Every day our experienced L&I Lawyers provide guidance to workers who suffer on the job injuries and occupational illness. Contact our team today to represent your case.

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