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Senators Ask IG to Address Workers’ Concerns with Compensation Claims Following Chemical Vapor Exposures

Download a PDF of Sens. Cantwell and Murray’s letter here.

Washington, D.C. – Today, Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) wrote the Acting Inspector General in the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to urge implementation of safety recommendations for Hanford workers and to encourage protection of whistleblowers. The senators also requested that the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) review the third-party company who handles workers’ compensation claims at Hanford, Penser North America, Inc.

Hanford workers and union representation have expressed concern that, after exposure to dangerous materials at the workplace, medical claims are not being adequately addressed. The senators write: “We have been informed of multiple accounts of claims being dismissed on arbitrary grounds, tactics bordering on intimidation and actions taken to discredit worker claims. The seriousness of these allegations demands action.”

In response to these troubling reports, Sens. Cantwell and Murray requested the OIG investigate the treatment of workers and claims brought during the term of Penser’s contract with DOE. To this end, the senators requested the OIG provide answers to the following:

1. Review any allegations of harassment and/or intimidation in relation to workers who have filed workers’ compensation claims due to workplace related injuries or illnesses at Hanford.

2. Does the department perform any form of oversight on the third-party administrator, Penser? Is there any oversight specific to the management of claims? If not, why not?

3. To what extent, if at all, does the department work with the third-party administrator, Penser, to administer the workers’ compensation claims program?

4. Are the doctors and/or medical providers selected by Penser qualified to determine health conditions caused by exposure to chemicals at Hanford? What methodology is used to ensure the doctors and/or medical providers are qualified?

5. Are the doctors and/or medical providers selected by Penser provided all of the necessary and relevant information related to a workplace injury or illness to make an accurate determination?

6. Please detail the number of workers’ compensation claims that have been approved for a workplace injury or illness caused by chemical vapor exposure. Further, please provide the number of workers’ compensation claims denied in which chemical vapor exposure was detailed as the cause.

7. Develop a process by which the OIG conducts annual reviews on the implementation of current and future recommendations on health and safety practices at Hanford.

To further complicate safety matters at Hanford, DOE issued a two-month stay on vital protections provided to whistleblowers in a previous regulation. “We fear that halting this regulation would discourage both whistleblowers from stepping forward with safety concerns and workers from raising concerns with health and safety practices,” the senators write.

Download a PDF of the letter here.