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Report on audit critical of Hanford nuclear site’s comp program

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The U.S. Office of Inspector General on Thursday released a scathing report on its congressional-ordered audit of the workers compensation program at the Hanford nuclear site in Hanford, Washington, where workers have reportedly suffered from numerous ailments and cancers they claim are related to their contact with hazardous materials since the site opened during World War II.

The 39-page report, ordered in March 2017 by U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, Democrats from Washington, cites issues with how the Hanford workers comp office inadequately filed forms with the state Department of Labor and Industries, which oversees the state’s comp program, and how a lack of communication has led to overall trust issues between workers and those who handle their comp claims. 

“We determined that (Hanford’s workers comp department) does not have effective processes, procedures and controls over the Workers’ Compensation Program at the Hanford site. We identified problems with incomplete documentation packages sent to (the Washington L&I), a major billing and payment discrepancy with the… (L&I) related to pension benefits costs, questioned costs relating to indemnity claims, and concerns with the letter of credit and payments processes,” the report states.

The audit also found that issues with worker trust in the comp program are “exacerbated by a fragmented Hanford Site Workers’ Compensation process that workers find confusing. The process involves many players,” including the worker, the operating contractors, the union, health advocates, the occupational medical services, the (workers comp) Department, physicians and medical professionals, attorneys, the L&I and the program’s insurer Richland, Washington-based Penser North America Inc.

Roughly 340 claims are sent to Penser per year, the report stated, adding that the “large majority of these claims appear to be managed, processed and paid without raising any concerns.”

Auditors were also asked to assess concerns “over potential harassment and intimidation of workers for filing (comp) claims.” They “did not observe direct evidence to confirm or refute workers’ concerns” but that “that conflict and worker frustration often occurs when complex injury/illness claims are filed, such as those associated with chemical vapors,” the report stated. 

“Our work in this sensitive area indicated that due diligence was exercised, and we have seen no evidence that specific workers were singled out and treated unfairly,” the report stated.

Officials at Penser and the Washington Department of Labor and Industries could not immediately be reached for comment.

The report came nearly six months after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill that covers cancer and other illnesses under presumption for former workers of the decommissioned nuclear site.