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February 10, 2003

L&I cracks down on unregistered residential wood framers

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

A similar sweep held in the same area last fall turned up eight unregistered contractors and over 70 workplace safety and health violations. L&I inspectors also found nine contractors who did not have L&I accounts and more than 40 contractors who were identified as possibly underpaying their workers' compensation accounts. They also found 15 contractors who were delinquent in their payments to L&I.

This is part of a statewide effort to reduce injuries and ensure that 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 considerably higher than most other trades in the construction industry.

Since L&I launched its framing initiative last summer, the agency has nearly tripled the number of safety inspections and contacts it has made with contractors. The goal is to hold rates down by reducing injuries and spreading the cost of workers' compensation insurance evenly throughout the industry.

As a risk class, the framing industry pays $2.58 an hour for industrial insurance, far higher than the $1.87-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.

Indications are the initiative is working. Eye injuries and injuries caused by falls have declined significantly. More than 200 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.

"Our goal is to make the industry safer and to eliminate any unfair competitive advantage some contractors gain by violating the law," said L&I Director Paul Trause. "We want a safe and level playing field. We are determined to make this industry safer and to ensure that framers are meeting their obligation to the workers' compensation program."

The initiative has the support of the Building Industry Association of Washington. To help in the effort, L&I is asking general contractors and residential homebuilders not to do business with 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, go to www.LNI.wa.gov/contractors/contractor.asp. To check on a framer's status regarding industrial insurance premiums, go to www.LNI.wa.gov/scs/, then click on "Contractor Premium Status Log-in Site." 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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For media information, contact: 
Robert Nelson, L&I, 360-902-6043, nelq235@lni.wa.gov

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