Washington Department Of Corrections Fined For Unsafe Asbestos Removal Program

By Patricia Murphy

The State Department of Corrections has shut down a decades old program staffed by inmates to remove asbestos from prison facilities. The DOC says the closure was unrelated to a $70,000 fine from the Department of Labor and Industries.
L&I determined the Department exposed inmate workers to asbestos dust, which is a known carcinogen.    The original penalty topped $140,000. It was halved under the settlement agreement.

Under the deal the DOC will train about a thousand employees on how to handle asbestos properly. They will also buy more safety equipment including respirators. L&I’s Elaine Fischer says five of the violations were determined to be willful.

Fischer: “That means that the employer knew or should have known or disregarded the safety regulations regarding the procedures for handling the materials containing asbestos.“

The report found that among other things the DOC allowed inmates to sweep kitchen flooring tile containing asbestos during a project at the Washington Corrections Center for Women. Fischer says L&I investigators also determined that the use of respirators was not enforced.
Fischer: “The potential for exposure is present all of the time. And the consequences are huge. You may not know you’re exposed. You may not realize the seriousness of it but thirty years later you develop asbestos related lung disease or cancer.”
Under the settlement the DOC admitted no guilt. In a statement the DOC says it regrets that regulations weren’t followed. The DOC also disputes L&I’s finding that employees or inmates were exposed to asbestos dust.
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