Surprise Sweep of Washington Work Sites Uncovers Unregistered Contractors

November 7, 2012

In the fourth surprise sweep in Washington state since August, construction compliance inspectors with the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) visited 63 work sites in Chelan and Douglas counties this past weekend, citing 11 contractors for either lacking a state registration, or not being registered for the work they were actually doing. The infraction carries a $1,000 fine for a first-time offense.

“An unregistered contractor typically has no liability insurance, no bond and pays no taxes or workers’ comp,” said Dean Simpson, manager of L&I’s construction compliance program. “That means they’re leaving consumers unprotected and are unfairly competing with reputable contractors who do great work and meet the requirements.”

“We continue to receive numerous calls from consumers who thought they were getting ‘a great deal,’ only to discover that they have little or no recourse when they’re ultimately left in a lurch by these bad actors,” said Mark Straub, executive officer for The North Central Home Builders Association. He said the association, “fully supports such efforts by L&I in rooting out unregistered contractors in North Central Washington.”

Simpson said his program has stepped up staffing and focus in the past year and a half, with the welcome support of builder groups. In the last fiscal year alone, L&I inspected more than 10,000 jobsites – 56 percent more visits and 39 percent more violations uncovered than in the previous year.

“We want to show people we’re out there, even on the weekends,” Simpson said. “We want unregistered contractors to know we will find them and for honest contractors to know we’re not ignoring this problem.”

Last weekend’s sweep is the latest to target the underground economy. Similar efforts took place in Walla Walla Aug. 3-4, in Spokane Aug. 24-25 and in Tacoma Sept. 22-23. In those three sweeps, L&I visited a total of 194 work sites, cited 30 contractors for registration violations, found other problems with plumber certifications and underage workers, and referred several contractors to L&I’s audit program for follow-up.

L&I has carried out surprise inspections at 257 work sites since the agency began sweeps in August, and issued 41 citations for registration problems. The agency also found a number of other violations relating to uncertified plumbers, underage workers and unpermitted work on manufactured homes.

Working as a contractor without registration, even advertising to do so, can result in a minimum $1,000 penalty for a first offense. Penalties climb with each resulting citation. Inspectors typically issue seven such infractions in an average month.

L&I’s contractor compliance program has 21 inspectors around the state. Working both from tips and random site visits, the inspectors make sure contractors are properly registered, whether the person is a painter, tree trimmer, carpenter, concrete worker, fence installer or a handyman.

Source: L&I Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) Division.

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