Safety, health at issue at woolen mill in Washougal

State designates 36 'serious' violations, levies fine against Pendleton

By Aaron Corvin and Cami Joner

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Pendleton Woolen Mills health citation

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Pendleton Woolen Mills safety inspection

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Pendleton Woolen Mills

One of Oregon’s largest and oldest family-owned businesses, known for its Pacific Northwest-inspired wool apparel and Native American blanket designs.

Headquarters: Portland.

Executives: Bill Lawrence, CEO; Broughton (Brot) Bishop, vice chairman; C. M. (Mort) Bishop III, president; Dennis Simmonds, CFO; John Bishop, vice president and chairman of the board; Charles Bishop, vice president; and Peter Bishop, vice president.

Total employees: 830.

Pendleton Washougal mill: The company’s largest wool-weaving mill.

Where: 2 Pendleton Way, Washougal.

Division manager: Charles Bishop.

Employees: 190.

The Washington Department of Labor & Industries has fined Pendleton Woolen Mills $93,300 for 36 "serious" violations of workplace safety and health rules at its textile mill in Washougal. It also tagged the company for five smaller violations that carried no penalties.

State officials said Tuesday that their designation of "serious" indicates situations in which a person could be seriously injured or killed. While penalties and fine amounts depend on various factors, said L&I spokeswoman Elaine Fischer, "the thing that really stands out here is the number of serious violations."

In a written statement issued to The Columbian, 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 he hasn't seen the official report from L&I, dated June 19 and addressed to Pendleton's post office box in Portland, where the company is headquartered.

Said Bishop: "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 has until July 13 to formally respond to L&I. Its options include appealing the state agency's findings.

Individual penalty amounts levied against the Washougal mill ranged from $350 to $4,550, according to L&I inspection reports.

According to douments, 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 found 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."

Anonymous complaint

The fines levied by state regulators stem from inspections launched late last year in response to "an anonymous complaint about stairs and tripping hazards," according to Fischer.

That complaint came as state regulators were planning to conduct routine health inspections of companies, including the Washougal mill.

As a result, Fischer said, regulators decided to conduct both the safety and health inspections simultaneously.

Fischer said that records show that a union representative was present when the regulators and company officials met to discuss the inspections that would ensue.

However, the records do not identify the union, she said.

Of the Washougal mill's 36 "serious" violations, 11 have been corrected by the company, according to L&I's inspection reports.

The company had five "general" violations, of which two have been corrected. A "general" citation is given when paperwork is missing or safety rules aren't written down -- not in cases where a person is likely to be injured or killed. None carried a penalty.

None of L&I's reports cite the mill for the most egregious type of violation: "willful." That citation is made when an employer knew a health or safety violation was occurring and did not act to correct it.

The L&I reports outline June, July and August deadlines for Pendleton Woolen Mills to fix all of its remaining serious and general violations. Fischer said the company received the final safety and health inspection reports on June 21.

Pendleton employs 830 employees, with 190 workers stationed at the Washougal mill.

The company has operated in Washougal since 1912 when its owners, members of the Bishop family, took over an idle mill that once occupied the company's present-day site. Today, the 300,000-square-foot mill sits on about 70 acres wedged between the city's downtown core and state Highway 14. Pendleton has been one of the city's largest employers for 100 years, said Brent Erickson, executive director of the Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce.

The Washougal mill focuses on smaller production runs of wool fabrics for niche markets, Charlie Bishop told The Columbian for a story published in March.

Bishop is a vice president and division manager of the Portland-based company and a member of its fifth-generation family ownership.

In addition to making fabric for Pendleton's own line of upscale apparel and famous blankets, the local mill makes and sells fabric to about 100 specialty customers.

The company operates about 70 retail stores in addition to its catalog and e-commerce businesses.

Nine violations with highest fines

The state fined Pendleton $4,550 for each of these nine violations, its highest penalty of any of the 41 it levied against the company's woolen mill in Washougal. The state deemed 36 of the violations to be serious. Pendleton has the option to appeal. This information is taken from the state's report to Pendleton.

1. Violation: Employer did not provide necessary training to employees involved in permit-required confined space.

Risk: Serious injury or death if workers are overcome by a high concentration of air contaminants or hazardous conditions.

Requirement: Establish employee proficiency in confined space duties.

2. Violation: Employer did not provide and require employees to use equipment to protect them from confined space hazards.

Risk: Serious injury or death if workers are overcome by a high concentration of air contaminants or hazardous conditions.

Requirement: Ensure that required equipment is assigned and used and that the monitoring equipment is maintained.

3. Violation: Employer did not inform and train employees about hazardous chemicals in the workplace.

Risk: Contact with corrosives may cause burns and permanent blindness or injury. Inhalation of solvents and corrosives may produce neurological and organ dysfunction.

Requirement: A properly developed and implemented Hazard Communication Training Program.

4. Violation: Employer did not require employees to use hearing protection when their noise exposures exceed an eight-hour time-weighted average of 85 decibels.

Risk: Exposure to loud noise results in permanent, irreversible hearing loss up to and including complete deafness.Requirement: The violation was corrected during the inspection.

5. Violation: Employer did not ensure that the employees received training about noise and hearing protection.

Risk: Exposure to loud noise results in permanent, irreversible hearing loss up to and including complete deafness.

Requirement: Employer must train workers who work in areas with high noise levels on hearing protection and noise controls used in the workplace.

6. Violation: Employer did not identify and correct deficiencies in the hearing loss program when audiometric testing identified hearing loss.

Risk: Exposure to loud noise over a long period of time causes noise induced hearing loss. This is a permanent disability.

Requirement: Take appropriate actions when deficiencies are found. Situation not believed to exist any longer. However, if this violation is identified again during future inspections, it may result in repeat or failure to abate violations which may include penalties.

7. Violation: Employer did not provide personal protective equipment to workers engaged in handling acids and caustics in bulk, and repairing pipe lines containing acids and caustics.

Risk: Contact with corrosive chemicals such as sulfuric, formic, acetic, and nitric acids, sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide, and hydrogen peroxide will cause burns and permanent injury. Exposure to the eyes could cause permanent blindness or injury.

8. Violation: Employer did not inform employees and control entry to permit-required confined spaces.

Risk: Unauthorized and un-evaluated entry into confined spaces 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.

9. Violation: Employer did not perform a Personal Protective Equipment Hazard Assessment by looking for and identifying hazards or potential hazards in the workplace.

Risk: Contact with corrosive chemicals such as sulfuric, formic and nitric acids, Sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide, and hydrogen peroxide will cause burns and permanent injury. Exposure to the eyes could cause permanent blindness or injury.

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