Wash. LnI cracks down on unregistered residential wood framers

The Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) has stepped up its efforts to sign up residential wood framers in the Washington workers’ compensation program, appealing to homebuilders and general contractors to not hire framers who don’t contribute to the state system.

The crackdown is the latest step in a framing initiative L&I launched last summer. The goals of the initiative are to reduce injuries, and to increase participation in the state-run workers’ comp 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.

Tentative numbers indicate the initiative is working. Between July and Dec. of last year, eye injuries declined 32 percent. Injuries caused by falls from ladders were down 17 percent.

During that same period, L&I nearly tripled the number of safety inspections and contacts it made with contractors. The program also has signed up about 100 residential wood framers who previously had not been been contributing to the workers’ comp fund.

The inspections also uncovered numerous small companies that owe L&I thousands of dollars in back insurance premiums. Working with area general contractors, L&I has moved to put two such Clark County companies—Framing Constructors LLC and Framing Systems LLC, both owned by Rick Reynolds—out of business.

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’ comp 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’ comp premiums.

Initially, the agency will focus its efforts in Clark County. Already it has increased safety inspections, and is writing up any residential construction project found not to be in compliance with state law. Throughout this spring and summer, the beefed-up inspection program will spread throughout the state.

As a risk class, the building construction industry pays an average premium of $1.40 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 nearly $1.98. And unlike many other trades in the construction industry, the premium for framers went up this year.

L&I manages the workers’ comp system in Washington. It oversees premium payments and benefits for about 160,000 employers and 1.8 million workers.

Over the past year, L&I has dramatically increased its pursuit of employers, workers and providers who commit fraud. Dozens of workers have received fraud orders to repay workers’ comp benefits they collected illegally. Some of those orders have been in excess of $400,000.

In one case, the owner of a hearing aid company went to jail for bilking L&I. And in the past few months, criminal charges were filed against a Brush Prairie couple for failing to pay employment taxes for the three businesses they own. That case is scheduled to go to trial in July in Clark County Superior Court.