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April 9, 2003

L&I cracks down on unregistered residential wood framers

TUMWATER - The Department of Labor & Industries has stepped up its efforts to sign up residential wood framers in the state's workers' compensation program, appealing to homebuilders and general contractors to not hire framers who don't contribute to the state system.

"Our goal is to get general contractors to work with us and not use these subcontractors who aren't contributing," said Kerry Ivey, Region 1 Administrator in Northwest Washington. "If illegal framers can't get work, they'll either get legal or be out of business."

The latest effort in L&I's nearly two-year-old Residential Wood Framing Initiative will be weekend sweeps Region 1 will conduct this Friday and Saturday in Snohomish County and May 2 and 3 in Skagit and Whatcom counties. On those dates, L&I inspectors will be out in force, looking for safety violations and checking to see if contractors are registered with L&I and participating in the state's workers' compensation system.

In Region 4, which covers southwest Washington, inspectors will be conducting similar sweeps in Clark, Grays Harbor, Thurston, Lewis and Cowlitz counties throughout the month of April.

The crackdown is the latest step in the framing initiative L&I launched in the summer of 2001. The initiative has two goals: to reduce injuries, and to increase participation in the state-run workers' compensation program. Accomplishing both objectives has the potential to lower the premiums paid by framers who comply with state law and contribute to the insurance plan.

So far, the initiative seems to be working. Since it began, eye injuries have declined 43 percent. Injuries that result from falls are down 10 percent. L&I also had dramatically increased the number of audits it conducts and the number of contractors brought into compliance. Since the initiative began, 346 unregistered contractors have been found and brought into compliance. The number of unreported hours uncovered by agency audits has increased by 140 percent.

To help in the effort, L&I is urging building trade associations and residential homebuilders to not do business with framers who aren't registered and don't contribute to the workers' compensation fund. One argument the agency is using to persuade general contractors to participate is that under state law, they ultimately are liable for unpaid workers' compensation premiums.

Contractors can verify a framer's status online by going to L&I's web site at www.lni.wa.gov/insurance/premium/. You can verify a contractor's premium status by following the directions on the page.

"We want a level playing field, so that contractors who contribute to the fund and pay their fair share aren't at a financial disadvantage," said Ivey. "We are determined to make this industry safer. And we are increasing the number of framers who contribute to workers' compensation."

As a risk class, the building construction industry pays an average premium of $1.87 to the State Fund for every hour of work. Because of their poor safety record, and because so many residential wood framers avoid contributing to the fund, the premium for framers is over $2.58 an hour. And unlike many other trades in the construction industry, the premium for framers went up this year.

Labor & Industries manages the workers' compensation system in Washington. It oversees premium payments and benefits for about 163,000 employers and 1.9 million workers


Media contact: Robert T. Nelson, L&I Public Affairs, 360-902-6043 or nelq235@lni.wa.gov

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