A Sumner, Washington, fish processing plant “knowingly putting workers at risk of exposure” to COVID-19 during a staff meeting in 2021, and paid a $56,000 fine after one worker died of the virus, the Washington state Department of Labor & Industries announced Monday.
Shining Ocean Inc., which did not appeal its citation, failed to enforce mask use and other rules during a November 2021 staff meeting, directly leading to the spread of COVID-19, resulting in 16 workers becoming infected, one of whom died, according to the department.
Only three or four of the 23 people who attended the meeting were reportedly wearing a mask; the president of company wasn’t one of them. The company also had no system in place to verify worker vaccination status, according to the department.
When L&I inspectors asked him why the use of facemasks was not being enforced, he said he didn’t feel like there was a reason to. Employees said the company president told them it’s their personal choice whether to wear a mask, according to investigators.
“This happened when COVID rates and hospitalizations were high and the requirement to wear masks was still in place,” said Craig Blackwood, assistant director of L&I. “Management got complacent about workplace safety, and it cost a worker his life.”
The violation is classified as willful serious, because the employer knew the risk, but chose to ignore COVID-19 mandates. Shining Ocean will be subject to increased scrutiny from L&I as part of the severe violator program.