News for Small Business - June 2007

News

Summer heat stress rule now in effect

L&I is adopting a temporary rule again this summer to protect outdoor workers from heat-related illness. The rule took effect June 18 and will last through the summer months.

The rule requires employers with outdoor workers to develop a written plan to prevent heat-related illness, and train employees and put work practices into effect that reduce or eliminate the risk of heat-related illness caused by exposure to heat and humidity when working outdoors.

Man drinking a liquid while working to stay hydrated.It also requires employers to provide sufficient water — up to one quart per hour per employee — when heat-related illness is a possibility. Employers will be required to respond to workers with symptoms of heat-related stress by removing them from work and providing a means to cool off, such as shade, misting stations, or an air-conditioned office.

This year’s updated heat stress rule is easier to follow because it specifically spells out what an employer is supposed to do, such as what is required in the training plan and how to respond if employees show symptoms. Also new is a specific exemption from these requirements for employers whose workers are incidentally exposed to outdoor heat, such as workers who must briefly travel between two air-conditioned buildings or who drive a forklift mostly in an air-conditioned warehouse but occasionally take a load outdoors.

You can review the updated rule on the L&I web site and find tools to help you comply with the heat-illness requirements, including a guide to help you and your workers detect and respond to heat-illness symptoms, and a guide on how to protect workers from heat illness. You can find all of these things on the L&I web site at: www.lni.wa.gov/safety/topics/atoz/heatstress/default.asp.

Train-the-trainer workshop presentations are also available to help your safety staff and supervisors learn to train your workers. For more information, please contact Sharon Drozdowsky at 360-902-4622 or by e-mail at dros235@LNI.wa.gov.

A permanent rule will be adopted in early 2008. L&I will develop a small-business economic impact statement and will hold public hearings around the state so that all who are interested have an opportunity to participate.


Workers' compensation rate holiday begins July 1 — please remember to change your payroll deductions

Employers and workers will share savings during the second half of 2007 that average 34 percent. For more information, see the L&I News for Small Business Special Edition sent to our subscribers on June 7. Questions?  Call your L&I account manager (the number is on your quarterly report form) or L&I's Small Business Liaison. Read the full Special Edition story, including payroll deduction rates for all risk classes, here.


New/Revised information as of July 2, 2007:

Legislature toughens contractor registration requirements

Editor’s Note: This story has been revised since its first release on June 25. Please note the addition of information about specialty licenses and a requirement that homeowners sign a contractor's Lien Disclosure Notice. Also, the required bond for appealing a contractor registration citation, and increases in the registration bond for contractors with judgments on their record, will take effect on July 23. The original story incorrectly stated that these two items would be delayed pending a rulemaking process.

 

The state Legislature tightened registration requirements for construction contractors when it passed Substitute House Bill 1843 this spring. Major changes created by the new legislation, which takes effect July 23, include:

    • Close “property-owner” loophole: Superintendents and owners who build and develop multiple structures, such as “spec” houses, will no longer be allowed to build or remodel and then sell these buildings under the “owner exemption,” but will be required to be a registered contractor.
    • Close construction consulting service loophole: Firms or individuals that act as a contractor when advising homeowners on how to manage construction or remodeling of a home must be registered contractors.
    • Require that the homeowner or building owner sign the Lien Disclosure Notice and that the contractor keep the notice on-file for three years. This requirement is subject to contractor registration penalties, which range from $250 for the first violation and escalating up to $10,000 for six or more violations.
    • Allow L&I to increase the required registration bond for contractors with three or more judgments on two projects over a five-year period. The new legislation allows an increase of a maximum three times the current bond requirement. L&I will make an interim decision on how to apply this new authority and will notify all contractors that have judgments on their records. L&I will also go through a formal rulemaking process to establish its long-term approach for carrying out this new authority.
    • Correct problem court decisions: Several court rulings are contrary to past practices for protecting consumers. For example, a judge ruled that cabinetmakers don’t need to be registered contractors. The legislation requires that cabinetmakers who also install cabinets must be registered and bonded.
    • Require notification of legal actions and judgments: This legislation requires the prevailing party to notify L&I when a judgment on a contractor’s bond is issued and requires notification to L&I when a contractor is served with a lawsuit.
    • Require Tree Removal Service companies to be registered contractors
    • Increase enforcement: The approved bill changes the penalty for operating as an unregistered contractor from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor to allow local prosecutors time to pursue problem contractors. It also gives L&I the ability to cite registered contractors who hire unregistered subcontractors.
    • Add a $200 bond for all appealed citations. If the contractor wins an appeal of a contractor registration violation, the bond is returned. If the contractor loses the appeal, the contractor must pay the citation penalties and loses the appeal bond.
    • A Superior Court judge can issue warrants to allow L&I to check for unregistered contractors and allows L&I to subpoena supporting documentation when checking for unregistered contractors.
    • Reduce the number of specialty licenses allowed for each contractor to one, rather than the current two. Some contractors were gaining an unfair advantage over their competitors by having two specialties and charging all of their workers’ compensation hours to the lower-cost specialty. New contractors and those who renew their registration or have it reinstated on or after July 23 will be limited to one specialty license. Currently registered contractors that maintain good standing can continue with two specialties until they renew their registration. L&I will work to make this new process easier to understand by developing rules to clarify the definition of a specialty contractor. Hearings and comment periods for these rules will be established soon. For more information, please contact Dennis Yonker at 360-902-6303 (e-mail: yonk235@LNI.wa.gov), or Sally Elliott at 360-902-6411 (e-mail: yous235@LNI.wa.gov).

 


Tools to save time and money

Stories of workplace deaths drive home safety message to employees

If you’re a construction company looking for quality materials for safety meetings, check out L&I’s Fatality Narratives, a series of over 50 easy-to-use training documents.

A boom crane underneath high-voltage power lines. A worker was killed at this site when a crane boom came into contact with high-voltage power lines.

Based on recent construction fatalities in our state, the one-page training tools begin with a description of an incident, followed by recommendations and requirements that could have prevented the death. The story format will hold your employees’ attention and makes the information easy to understand and remember. There are a wide variety of safety issues covered in the narratives, allowing a trainer to focus on a work team and what is important to that group in its workplace.

L&I staff have used these fatality narratives as training materials for workers in different construction companies and found them to be highly rated by audiences. In addition, nearly 70 percent of trainees said they would make changes in the way they did their jobs following a session with these fatality stories.

L&I Fatality Narratives are available at no charge online at www.lni.wa.gov/safety/research/FACE under “Reports and Narratives. ” Some of the narratives are also available online in Spanish.


FOCUS ON: Vocational re-training help for injured workers

Improvements underway to make vocational training more effective and cost-efficient

L&I is making significant improvements to the workers' compensation vocational training system — one of the most common bottlenecks that keeps injured workers on time-loss and off the job.

Vocational rehabilitation services have been criticized for delaying claims and hurting the future prospects of injured workers. The current maximum of $4,000 and one year to complete a program leaves few good training programs available to injured workers. As a result, nearly half of the workers who are eligible for training can’t identify a program that works for them, and about the same proportion of those who begin a retraining program don’t finish. These “failed plans” frequently have to be started over again, often with a new goal, several months’ delay, and higher costs for the employer.

Gov. Chris Gregoire this year requested and won legislative approval for changes in vocational rehabilitation services. These changes take effect starting January 1, 2008:

  • Support eligible injured workers with up to $12,000 in tuition and up to two years of training, which will greatly increase access to viable training programs that lead to living-wage jobs and motivate injured workers to get back to work. Improving opportunities for workers to return to work can reduce long-term workers’ compensation costs.
  • Allow eligible workers to “opt-out” of retraining and instead receive a monetary award equivalent to six months of time-loss. The claim would close and they would no longer be eligible for time-loss, but would still have access to tuition benefits for re-training.
  • Establish partnerships with some local WorkSource locations and use L&I staff to provide vocational services from these locations.
  • Provide new return-to-work opportunities by engaging employers, business and labor organizations, and community colleges to identify training opportunities in high-demand occupations.

The legislation includes an independent study of the project outcomes and an analysis of L&I performance in providing vocational services. For workers and vocational rehabilitation counselors, the legislation sets expectations for plan participation and limits time for plan development. For employers, the bill specifies timeframes for job offers that stop the vocational process.

The effect of the changes will be evaluated over the next several years, giving everyone involved the chance to validate that the legislation produces the desired outcomes at a reasonable cost. L&I will also form a business and labor workgroup to discuss implementation of the changes and consider further improvements.


L&I Small Business Contact:

Ron Langley
Small Business Liaison
Phone: 360-902-4205
Fax: 360-902-4202
E-mail: SmallBusiness@LNI.wa.gov

Want to subscribe to L&I News for Small Business? Contact Ron using the contact information listed above.

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