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August 27, 2002

L&I cracks down on unregistered residential wood framers

TUMWATER - Inspectors from the Department of Labor & Industries will be out in force in Pierce, Jefferson, Kitsap and Clallam counties during the month of September, making sure residential wood framers are working safely and are registered and paying their fair share to the state's workers' compensation fund.

Similar sweeps in Southwest Washington and Spokane County recently turned up 15 unregistered contractors and nearly 150 serious workplace safety and health violations.

This area is the fourth region to be targeted in an ongoing effort to reduce injuries and ensure framers are meeting their statutory obligation to the program that insures workers against job-related injuries and illnesses. Framers have been targeted because their injury rate and premiums are higher than most other trades in the construction industry.

Since Labor & Industries launched its framing initiative last summer, the agency has nearly tripled the number of safety inspections and contacts it has made with contractors. Ultimately, this should lower the premiums paid by framers.

As a risk class, the framing industry pays $1.98 an hour for industrial insurance, far higher than the $1.40-an-hour premium that's average for the construction industry. For the most part, the higher premium is a reflection of the trade's poor safety record and the lack of participation in the program. Together, the two put a financial burden on framers who comply with state law by registering and accurately reporting the number of hours their employees work.

Early indications are the initiative is working. Between July and December last year, eye injuries in the industry declined 30 percent. Injuries caused by falls were down 19 percent. More than 179 unregistered residential wood framers have been brought into compliance. Also, L&I has collected thousands of dollars in back workers' compensation premiums owed by companies that weren't reporting or were underreporting hours worked.

"We want a level playing field so that contractors who pay their fair share aren't at a financial disadvantage," said L&I Director Gary Moore. "Our goal isn't to cause unnecessary construction delays with our inspections. But we are determined to make this industry safer. And we are going to ensure framers are meeting their obligation to the workers' compensation program."

To help in the effort, L&I is asking building trade associations and residential homebuilders to not do business with illegal framers who aren't registered and are not paying properly. Ultimately, general contractors are liable for a subcontractor's unpaid premiums.

To check on a framer's contractor-registration status, visit the registered contractors site.  To check on a framer's status regarding industrial insurance premiums, visit the contractor premium status information page, then click on "Verify Contractor Premium Status." There, you can search by company name or UBI number. Contractors also can check on a subcontractor by phoning any local L&I office.

It will be time well spent.

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