1. Supreme Court lets stand ruling that employers must cooperate with L&I audits
The Washington State Supreme Court has let stand a lower court ruling that says employers must cooperate with Department of Labor and Industries audits of their records, or risk paying what the agency estimates they owe in workers compensation premiums.
In a decision important to the administration of the state workers compensation system, the court this week denied a Petition of Review sought by Diamond Driving School. The case grew out of a dispute dating back to 1997. Diamond, which at the time provided drivers education classes at 15 locations around the state, contended that its instructors were independent contractors and, therefore, did not have to be covered by the states workers compensation system. When L&I auditors investigated the company to determine if that claim was true, Diamond refused to provide canceled checks and other documents supporting its position.
L&I subsequently assessed the company more than $68,000 in estimated unpaid premiums, penalties and interest. Diamond appealed to the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals, Thurston County Superior Court, the state Court of Appeals and, eventually, the Washington State Supreme Court.
At each level of appeal, Diamond provided additional information supporting its contention that its instructors were independent contractors and, therefore, did not qualify for mandatory insurance coverage. By then, however, the issue before the courts was whether or not a company can refuse to cooperate with an L&I audit and then appeal audit findings using information it previously had denied L&I auditors.
The Court of Appeals in April found the school had violated state regulations by failing to produce business records the Department properly and repeatedly requested, and the court refused to consider those records on appeal.
2. Updated workplace rule takes mystery out of machine safety
A revised and updated machine-safety rule takes effect Jan. 1, 2005, and the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) is offering workshops across the state to help employers learn about the rule.
“This revised machine-safety rule provides a huge leap forward in safety and health in Washington state,” said Michael Silverstein, assistant director of the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA) Services Division. “The rule has been rewritten in ‘plain talk’ so that it is easily understood. We worked closely with industry representatives to ensure a clear and usable rule, and we went a step further and provided employers with machine-safeguard options.”
Highlights of the revised machine-safety rule include:
*Incorporation of all provisions in a single location for ease of use.
*Basic machine safety for all employers.
*Clearly written requirements for a number of specific machines, including compactors, conveyors, food-processing equipment, saws, cutting heads.
*A section on press brakes that incorporates previous federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration language.
*A table of contents, index, helpful tool sections and illustrations.
*Current national consensus standards and state-of-the-art practices.
Machine-related incidents, such as being struck by or pulled into machinery, are a significant cause of injuries and deaths, costing Washington employers and workers an estimated $63 million in workers’ compensation claims costs over the past five years.
The workshops are scheduled for Dec. 14-29 in Everett, Mount Vernon, Spokane, Vancouver, Tukwila and Tumwater. Additional workshops are scheduled for 2005. For more information or to register for a workshop, please see the L&I web site at www.LNI.wa.gov/Safety/TrainTools/Workshops or call 1-800-574-2829.
The new rule will be available online on Jan. 1, 2005, at www.LNI.wa.gov/Safety/Rules/Find or by contacting Sally Elliot at 360-902-5484 or yous235@LNI.wa.gov.