A 20-year old program that was staffed by inmates by the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) was shut down this month after it was revealed that the inmates were being forced to remove asbestos from Washington prison facilities. The Washington DOC now faces a $70,000 fine.
According to Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries, investigations uncovered that the inmates working with the prison program were excessively exposed to asbestos on a regular basis during a cleanup project. As a result, the original fine was $140,000, but was reduced after a settlement agreement was reached in which the DOC agreed to train at least 1,000 employees on how to properly handle and dispose of asbestos.
Half of the fined remained because the DOC knowingly and willfully allowed inmates to work in dangerous situations without warning them or stopping them.
“That means that the employer knew or should have known or disregarded the safety regulations regarding the procedures for handling the materials containing asbestos,” said Elaine Fisher of the Department of Labor and Industries.
According to the report, one of the duties the inmates were mandated to do was to sweep floor tiles that contained asbestos at a Washington womens’ prison. Not even one inmate was given a respirator and none were warned of the dangers that may occur if they inhaled or ingested asbestos.
“The potential for exposure is present all of the time. And the consequences are huge. You may not know you’re exposed. You may not realize the seriousness of it but thirty years later you develop asbestos related lung disease or cancer,” Fischer went on to say.
The DOC released a statement that denied any guilt but suggested that they regretted not following proper procedures. The DOC decided to close down the inmate cleanup program indefinitely, which paid the inmates $4 per hour. However, when questioned, they were quick to say that it had nothing to do with the asbestos exposure and the fines. In fact, the DOC still disputes that the inmates were even exposed to asbestos.
Keep in mind that if your or a loved have been exposed to asbestos due to the negligence of another party, you may entitled to damages. By state and federal law, inmates must be afforded the same rights to safety as any other person who works on a project around dangerous materials. Should an inmate develop an asbestos-related disease due to the DOC’s harmful mistakes, they have the right to file a mesothelioma lawsuit.
For more information and to learn more about your legal rights, contact our leasing mesothelioma law firm today for a free, no-obligation consultation.