City updates safety procedures following L&I citation

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The city of Blaine recently updated some of its safety procedures following a citation from the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries’ Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

Following a safety and health inspection that took place on December 23, the city of Blaine received a citation from Labor and Industries dated January 31. The citation found five violations of the Washington Administrative Code, and one of the violations – a lack of annual blood-borne pathogen training for at-risk city employees – was deemed “serious,” resulting in a $900 penalty.

“The employer did not ensure that workers, who have known or potential exposure to blood and other potentially infectious materials based on their job assignments, received annual blood-borne pathogen training,” said a copy of the citation, which was required to be posted for viewing by city employees for three working days or until all violations had been corrected.

While the city was required to correct the pathogen training violation by May 3, city manager Michael Jones said that the city has already implemented the required training. “We have some city employees who had been routinely trained, but others had been missed,” Jones said. “We have since implemented a training for all the employees that needed to be trained.” The city’s blood-borne pathogen training for police officers was done online in January and February, while public works staff were already current, having completed an in-person course on November 6, 2018.

The Labor and Industries citation followed a process that included an opening conference on December 20 and a closing conference on January 8 with the Labor and Industries inspector. The opening conference was attended by Blaine’s assistant public works director, Sam Castro. The closing conference was attended by Jones, Castro and police chief Donnell Tanksley. “At the closing conference, we got a debriefing on what the inspector expected his findings to be,” Jones said. “We listened and asked questions and he provided us with some information on what the issues were.”

Following the closing conference, the city provided follow-up paperwork to Labor and Industries and began addressing the inspector’s findings right away. “We began addressing those issues at that time because there was no reason to wait for the citation, which came out January 31,” Jones said. “There were things we were able to start addressing immediately.”

In addition to the lack of documented blood-borne pathogen training, the Labor and Industries inspector found several other violations, which were categorized as “general” as opposed to “serious” violations. The general violations were required to be corrected by March 19 and did not result in any financial penalties against the city.

One general violation was that the city did not have Hepatitis B vaccination declination forms on file. “The Hepatitis B declination option must be made available to all police officers and others that collect and handle evidence that is potentially contaminated with blood or other potentially infectious materials,” said the citation.

“We have been making Hepatitis B vaccinations available to employees who may encounter the disease through contact with blood or bodily fluids,” Jones said. “For those who opt not to get the vaccine, we need to have a form that says they declined it. We had neglected to keep a record of those forms.” The city made the forms available to city employees on February 26.

Another violation was the city’s failure to provide up-to-date training to city employees who work with hazardous chemicals. The Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for Hazard Communication is an international standard for informing workers about hazards in the workplace.

“The employer did not train employees on the details of the hazard communication program developed by the employer,” said the citation. “Employers must provide employees with updated information and training on hazardous chemicals in their work area at the time of their initial assignment, and whenever a new chemical hazard the employees have not previously been trained about is introduced into their work area.”

Jones said that the city provided updated GHS training to all of its employees who needed it on February 19, February 26 and March 10. In addition to public works staff and police officers, Jones said participants included janitorial staff who work with common household cleaners and water treatment facility employees who are exposed to chlorine.

The citation also noted the city’s failure to document its workplace hazard assessments, in which each job title is evaluated for the personal protective equipment (PPE) it requires – such as earplugs or bulletproof vests. “Each job title needs to be evaluated for what PPE is appropriate, and those were not up to date for all employees,” Jones said. “The paperwork for each job description hadn’t been up to date in every case.” The city has since contracted with Evergreen Safety in order to make the required edits.

An additional violation was the city’s lack of a city-wide safety committee. “The employer did not establish a safety committee that includes employee-elected and employer-selected members,” said the citation. Jones said that a committee has since been established. The committee’s first meeting was on March 9, and its members include police chief Tanksley, assistant public works director Castro and five other city employees who volunteered or were nominated by their peers. At this time, the committee plans to meet monthly.

The final component of the citation was an advisory about a small ceiling mold patch and roof leak in the police department’s evidence room. The city has already addressed the mold issue and hired a contractor to evaluate the leaky roof, Jones said. While the city has a bid for the roof repair that is about $16,000, no action will likely be taken at this time.

“We are not acting on that, because we intend to move out of that evidence storage room and implement a temporary storage solution” consisting of modified cargo containers, Jones said. The entire building where the evidence room is located – old city hall and the adjacent fire station – will be demolished, and a new police department annex will eventually be constructed on the site.

Jones said the city of Blaine has taken the Labor and Industries citation very seriously. “Safety is important, so any failure to meet the state standards is a significant thing to me,” he said. “It’s been a very useful process.” Jones will soon be preparing a formal response to the citation in order to notify Labor and Industries that its concerns have been fully addressed.

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