Pendleton disputes safety violation claims

Inspection of Washougal mill drew $93,000 in penalties from L&I

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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Pendleton Woolen Mills safety inspection

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Pendleton Woolen Mills health citation

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Portland-based Pendleton Woolen Mills is asking the Washington Department of Labor & Industries to throw out all 41 of the workplace safety and health violations — and $93,300 in penalties — it levied against the company's textile mill in Washougal.

In a written appeal received by the state agency Wednesday, Robert Battles, attorney for the company, said Pendleton "appeals all factual and legal aspects of all alleged violations" cited by L&I. "Even if violations occurred, which Pendleton disputes, the alleged citations should not have been issued as serious violations," Battles said.

The designation of "serious" indicates situations in which a person could be seriously injured or killed, according to L&I, which launched inspections of the Washougal textile mill in late 2011 in response to an anonymous complaint. The agency's inspection reports are dated June 19 of this year.

Battles, of the Lane Powell law firm, also requested L&I grant the company an opportunity for a "reassumption conference," a process by which an L&I hearings officer would meet with the company to discuss the case. Battles could not be reached for comment late Wednesday afternoon.

The company is asking for such a meeting in case L&I rejects its request to have all of the violations and penalties thrown out, said L&I spokeswoman Elaine Fischer.

"Then they can ask for it to be dismissed again or they can present more information," Fischer said. "They have the whole appeal process to present whatever information they have that supports their belief that the violations that were found are not accurate."

If Pendleton isn't satisfied with L&I's response to its appeal, then it has the option of taking the matter to the Washington State Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals, a separate agency from L&I.

If a settlement can't be reached at that point -- or if either Pendleton or L&I remain unsatisfied with a ruling by the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals -- the case could go to Superior Court.

Fischer declined to comment specifically on Pendleton's request to have the citations and fines dismissed. She said L&I just received the company's appeal and that it would be assigned to the proper staff.

Labor & Industries fined Pendleton $93,300 for what it called 36 "serious" violations of workplace safety and health rules at the Washougal mill. It also cited the company for what it described as five smaller violations that carried no penalties.

In a written statement issued to The Columbian at the time the fines were issued, Charlie Bishop, manager of the Washougal textile mill, said the company "works

hard to provide a safe and healthy workplace for all of its employees." He said at that time that he hadn't seen the official report from L&I, which had been sent to Pendleton's post office box in Portland, where the company is headquartered.

In that written statement, Bishop also said: "When we do get the opportunity to review it, we will work with (L&I) to better understand the issues and immediately move forward to correct them."

The company had until this Friday, July 13, to formally respond to L&I. Individual penalty amounts levied against the Washougal mill ranged from $350 to $4,550, according to L&I inspection reports. Nine of the alleged violations cited by the state carried the $4,550 fine.

According to documents, the company's violations ranged from failing to properly train employees to not requiring people to use protective equipment.

One citation with a penalty of $4,550 stated that the Washougal mill "did not inform employees and control entry to permit-required confined spaces. Employees have entered the basement neutralizing tank to clean. Access is not controlled." The report went on: "Unauthorized and un-evaluated entry" into this confined space "can cause injuries from suffocation, a high concentration of air contaminants, and/or chemical burns from sulfuric acid. Injuries can be disabling and cause death."

Battles, the attorney for Pendleton, said in his appeal that the company "disputes all citations, including but not limited to those citations that allege that it did not have a confined space entry program or that such program was insufficient."

Battles went on: "Further, Pendleton disputes all citations that allege it did not maintain a hazardous chemical program and a hearing protection program. In addition, Pendleton disputes all safety citations that allege Pendleton did not have adequate lockout/tag out procedures, proper machine guarding, fall protection and forklift training."

Aaron Corvin: http://twitter.com/col_econ;http://on.fb.me/AaronCorvin; 360-735-4518; aaron.corvin@columbian.com