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News / Business

Longview paper mill fined nearly $140,000 after failing to report COVID-19 infections, death

By Ty Vinson, The Olympian
Published: November 23, 2021, 7:54am

OLYMPIA — WestRock Services LLC, a paper mill in Longview in Cowlitz County, has been fined almost $140,000 after one worker died and more than a dozen others were infected with COVID-19.

According to a news release from the State Department of Labor & Industries, 15 workers who worked at the same machine were diagnosed with COVID-19 in March and April. Two people were hospitalized with the virus and one person died.

Neither the hospitalizations nor the death were reported to the state department, according to the release.

During an inspection of the workplace, L&I found that WestRock neglected to send workers home after they had complained to an onsite nurse about having COVID-19 symptoms.

According to the release, a machine operator recovering from the coronavirus told the onsite nurse he was having difficulty walking, was in pain and had shortness of breath. Another worker at the same machine had already been sent home after testing positive for COVID-19 that same morning. Rather than lose a second worker, the company had the employee stay and use supplemental oxygen.

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

The fines against WestRock total $139,832. A formal complaint also was filed with the Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission due to concerns surrounding the onsite nurse’s actions. The company has appealed the citation.

Money from fines goes into the workers compensation supplemental pension fund, which helps injured workers and families of those who have died on the job, according to the release.