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Aug. 9, 2001

L&I puts special focus on residential-wood-framing industry

TUMWATER - The Department of Labor & Industries has begun a program to reduce injuries among residential framers and increase the number of framers who participate in workers' compensation, as required by law.

The framing industry is the focus of this new L&I initiative because it is one of the most dangerous occupations in construction. Every day, an average of 12 framers file workers' compensation claims with L&I. Many of them are falls and eye injuries. From 1996 through 2000, there were 22,350 claims involving framers, with a total cost to date (medical expenses and partial wage replacement) of nearly $100 million.

"Our data shows that wood framers have particularly high rates of claims from on-the-job injuries," said Gary Moore, L&I director. "When framers are injured, those injuries usually are serious. Yet those accidents are preventable.

"We believe our efforts, in cooperation with the framing industry, will have measurable and successful results. Fewer workers will be injured. The bottom line will be better for employers."

Also, L&I data shows that many framing employers illegally do not have workers' compensation accounts with L&I or pay less than they should by under-reporting workers' hours (premium collections are based on hours worked).

This inequity means that employers who abide by the law are at a competitive disadvantage to those who avoid the payment. Employers who don't pay their fair share of insurance premiums, or who cut corners on safety, can underbid competitors who follow the rules. Their nonparticipation also raises the premiums of framers and their employees who follow the law and carry the financial load for the entire industry.

"By reducing injuries among wood framers, and by ensuring that all employers in the industry are in compliance, we expect that framing employers will, in the long term, see a reduction in the overall premium rate," Moore said.

Currently, wood-framing employers pay an average industrial insurance premium of $1.96 per employee per hour, compared with an average of 37 cents for all risk classes. The premium, now among the highest in the construction industry, is a reflection of the number and severity of claims from framers and the high cost of those claims.

During the special focus on residential wood framing, staff members across all L&I divisions and regions will play a role. Among other things, the department will:

  • Increase in-the-field consultation and inspection activities with framers.
  • Improve internal processes for quickly sharing information about framers. This will provide a coordinated and streamlined approach. For example, a safety inspector will refer a framing company to others at L&I who audit companies for accurate reporting of workers' hours.
  • Work with industry associations to address the shared interests in worker safety and reducing the premium rate.
  • Provide increased assistance to general contractors, framers and others about how to reduce injuries and how to comply with workers' compensation laws.

This initiative with the residential-wood-framing industry is in line with other recent L&I efforts to use its data to spot workplace-safety and workers' compensation problems. By using department-wide resources and working in collaboration with industry associations and employers, the department sets specific goals to reduce injuries and/or increase compliance with workers' compensation requirements. The department will continue to use this sort of approach to focus resources on specific industries to improve worker safety and to create a more level field of competition for work throughout Washington.

Labor & Industries administers the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA) and manages the state's workers' compensation system.

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