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Wash. state DOC fined for violating safety rules amid TB outbreak

Correctional personnel allegedly did not receive initial or annual fit testing for N-95 respirators


Photo/Washington State DOC

By Martín Bilbao
The Olympian

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Washington state Department of Corrections has been fined $84,400 for reportedly failing to follow safety rules meant to stop the spread of disease at Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen.

The state Department of Labor and Industries announced it was citing and fining the DOC in a Friday news release. The determination came after L&I inspectors responded to complaints related to a tuberculosis outbreak in April.

That month, the state Department of Health recorded the largest tuberculosis outbreak in 20 years, including a rise in cases at Stafford Creek Corrections Center.

Stafford Creek workers allegedly did not receive initial or annual fit testing for N-95 respirators, according to L&I. Without these tests, the respirators may not have fit tightly and correctly, inhibiting their ability to protect from infection.

In a statement, the DOC said it is “very concerned” with the citations issued by L&I, and it plans to work with L&I to address the violations.

“DOC faced an unprecedented situation this spring as a result of both the SCCC tuberculosis outbreak and the surge of COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant,” DOC said. “Although this situation was unprecedented, DOC is also taking steps to ensure we are better prepared to prevent reoccurrence.”

The statement also indicated the DOC plans to get help from outside safety professionals so it can meet L&I standards.

There had been no additional tuberculosis outbreaks at SCCC since the one identified in April, according to a follow-up DOC statement. However, the DOC noted a two-person outbreak at Clallam Bay Corrections Center also occurred in 2022.

The DOC had identified 23 inmates with active tuberculosis in 2022, per the statement. They also detected two cases in people who were diagnosed after being released.

L&I said in its news release that it offers resources for companies to train on proper respirator use. Training includes information on different types of respirators, ensuring workers are medically cleared to use a respirator, fit-testing guidelines and how to maintain respirators.

The DOC has the option to appeal the L&I citation for 15 working days. The $84,400 fine will go into a workers’ compensation fund to help injured workers and families of deceased workers.

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