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Nov. 17, 1995

Labor & Industries suspends Vancouver electrical firm's license

TUMWATER - Farwest Electric, Inc., a Vancouver electrical firm, today had its contractor's license suspended for three years and was fined $10,000 for violations of state electrical laws, the Department of Labor & Industries announced.

The three-year suspension marks the first time an electrical contractor's license has been suspended. In addition, the license of Farwest's electrical administrator also was suspended for three years.

The suspension is the result of investigations that began a year ago following citizen allegations that Farwest falsified the reporting of apprentice/trainee hours required for a candidate to qualify for a state-issued electrician's license. The investigation revealed that Farwest "through its management, knowingly" participated in the falsification of trainee hours reported to L&I since May 1992.

"Suspending licenses and issuing fines are the most severe actions we can take," said Frank Leuck, assistant director for consultation and compliance. "This puts electrical contractors and electricians on notice that if they violate electrical law, they'll face the toughest sanctions allowed under state law."

Announcing the penalties, Leuck emphasized that the agency has not finished its administrative investigation and is seizing Farwest records on apprentice/trainees whose hours were reported to the department by Farwest.

Individual electricians whose apprenticeship/trainee hours were falsified could face department sanctions as well, Leuck said.

A separate criminal investigation by the State Attorney General's Office and the State Patrol also has been under way since late last year. That independent investigation was requested by Labor & Industries following allegations of wrongdoing at Farwest. In August, the criminal division of the Attorney General's Office permitted Labor & Industries to proceed with an administrative investigation under electrical law.

"We had to remain clear of the criminal investigation until we were given the go-ahead by the criminal investigators," Leuck said.

Gary R. Rider of Farwest had his administrator's license suspended because he was not "present in this state as a fulltime supervisory employee" since May 1992, according to the L&I investigation. An administrator must be a member of the firm and available during work hours to ensure that electrical work complies with state law.

Under state law, an apprentice/trainee must complete a four-year apprenticeship to qualify for the journeyman's license test. Training in the electrical construction trade program must be under the one-on-one supervision of a licensed journeyman. Course work also qualifies. Hours are reported to the department through affidavits.

A total of 7,200 hours (with 3,600 in commercial or industrial installation) must be reported by sworn statement (an affidavit of experience) from a qualified contractor before the trainee is allowed to test for a journey-level license.

Farwest and Rider have 15 days to appeal. Penalties will not take effect before 15 days or until all appeals are resolved.

Labor & Industries is responsible for certification and licensing of all electricians, administrators and electrical contractors in the state. And with the exception of 22 cities, L&I's electrical staff inspects all new electrical work under a permit system to assure that the installation meets state requirements.

Leuck said the department has "beefed up our certification review program, and we're doing spot check reviews of other contractors to make sure what happened with Farwest is an isolated event," Leuck said.

To correct electrician documentation problems, Leuck said the agency is working to increase the fine structure for violations of electrical law and will be asking the 1996 Legislature for stronger penalties against violators. He also said today's action is the result of documentation violations by Farwest and is not about the quality of installation work performed by the company .

During a year-long, state-wide review, the agency was unable to uncover a single incident where a faulty electrical installation resulted in a fire, severe shock or electrocution. That review included the agency's electrical inspection program, contacts with city and county building departments, the building industry, the electrical industry, firefighting groups, labor groups and the fire marshal's office.

"Electrical work must meet code - period," Leuck said. "If an installation doesn't meet code, a correction is ordered. Corrections are common. That's why we have an inspection program. There is no question in my mind about the quality of the work of our inspectors - it's first-rate, despite heavy workloads."

There are 2,500 electrical contractors doing business in Washington. The department's electrical inspection staff is being increased by 17 in the current biennium to meet growing demand that inspections be completed with two days of filing for an inspection permit. Ten additional staff are being requested in the 1996 legislative session to help meet the inspection and certification workload.

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