Washington Seafood Processing Plant Fined $56K Following COVID Death

April 28, 2022

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A seafood processing plant has been fined $56,000 in connection with a 2021 COVID outbreak that left one employee dead.

The Department of Labor and Industries announced the fine against Shining Ocean Inc. on Monday, Northwest News Network reported.

According to the agency, a 65-year old employee of the Sumner company died after contracting COVID at a company staff meeting on November 4, 2021. During the meeting, the investigation found most of the 23 people in attendance did not wear masks. Sixteen workers contracted COVID, including the man who later died.

In May 2021, L&I issued updated workplace masking guidelines. Under those rules, fully vaccinated employees were not required to wear masks. However, masks were still mandated for unvaccinated employees.

The agency said Shining Ocean employees told investigators that the company’s president had indicated to them it was a matter of personal choice whether to wear a mask. The company, reportedly, also didn’t have a process in place at the time for verifying worker vaccination status.

“Management got complacent about workplace safety, and it cost a worker his life,” said Craig Blackwood, assistant director of L&I, said in a written statement.

The company did not respond to a call seeking comment.

Shining Ocean has paid the fine in full, according to L&I. Because the violation is classified as “willful serious,” L&I said the company will face heightened scrutiny under the agency’s severe violator program.

The fine is the latest in a series of COVID-related workplace safety fines and settlements assessed by the state over the past year, including a $2 million settlement reached with Gebbers Farms Operations in Brewster, Washington last August after two farmworkers died from COVID-19 in 2020. A pair of inspections found 24 “egregious willful” violations, including unsafe sleeping conditions. Under the settlement, one of the largest in state history, Gebbers agreed to invest the $2 million in health, safety and housing upgrades.

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