L&I: Sumner seafood plant ignoring COVID protocols led to 16 workers sick, 1 dead

FILE - A COVID face mask dangles from the rear-view mirror of a car. (Mark Rightmire/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

The Washington Department of Labor & Industries has cited and fined a Sumner fish processing plant, alleging they knowingly exposed workers to COVID-19, one of whom died.

L&I fined the Sumner-based seafood company Shining Ocean, Inc. $56,000 for not enforcing mask rules and coronavirus safety policies. According to the department, Shining Ocean management held a staff meeting on Nov. 4, 2021, but did not require employees to mask up or socially distance—only three or four of the 23 employees at the meeting wore face masks, the department says.

As a result, L&I says 16 workers contracted COVID-19 at the meeting, one of whom later died.

The company president was at the meeting, too, and was reportedly among those who refused to wear a mask. During an investigation, employees told L&I inspectors the president said it was a "personal choice" whether to wear a mask.

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Inspectors asked the president why he was not enforcing a face mask policy, and he said he did not think there was a reason to.

"This happened when COVID rates and hospitalizations were high and the requirement to wear masks was still in place," said L&I assistant director, Craig Blackwood. "Management got complacent about workplace safety, and it cost a worker his life."

According to L&I, the violation is classified as willful serious, meaning Shining Ocean knew the risks but chose to ignore COVID-19 mandates. The company paid the fine in full, which goes into a compensation supplemental pension fund for families of workers who have died on the job.

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L&I says they will further scrutinize Shining Ocean as part of their severe violator program.