DOL suit: $300,000 whiff of red cedar dust?

By BenefitsPro

By Dan Cook

The cedar chests, planks and furniture so admired by connoisseurs of fine-wood products pose a hazard to those who work with them. The U.S. Department of Labor is suing an Idaho mill owner for firing a cedar mill worker because, the suit claims, he complained about the lack of proper protection from the cedar dust his job required him to be around.

The DOL suit, which seeks $300,000 on behalf of the unnamed former employee as well as reinstatement, claims Clearwater Paper Corp. of Lewiston fired the employee “in retaliation for filing a safety complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Boise Area Office. The employee was first suspended and then fired soon after OSHA conducted an inspection to assess excessive exposure to red cedar dust.”

According to SAIF Corp., a workers’ compensation insurance provider, “Western Red Cedar is noted for causing or exacerbating asthma, rhinitis, and conjunctivitis in some individuals who are exposed to the dust created when processing the lumber.” SAIF said red cedar dust contains many “volatile and non-volatile” compounds that can represent health threats to those exposed to it.

The Clearwater incident occurred in 2010, and the mill was sold in 2011, the DOL said.

The company has denied that it retaliated against the employee.

“We disagree with the complaint and the conclusion and we will vigorously fight this in federal district court,” Clearwater’s Matt Van Vleet told the Spokane Spokesman Review.

Van Vleet said the employee was fired for work performance issues. He noted that the company’s action was upheld in arbitration.

“Clearwater Paper encourages our employees to speak up and speak out about safety and health concerns,” he said.

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