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Tip leads to theft charges in BMX bike rider disability scam


September 30, 2014
By Debby Abe

You can be our eyes and ears in the battle to fight fraud.

Yes, some of the best tips we get about people scamming the state come from the public.

Case in point: This week, a Kent man is being charged with felony theft in Thurston County. He’s accused of competing in BMX bike races around the Pacific Northwest while claiming he was so disabled from on-the-job injuries that he couldn’t work. Yet at the time he was racing, he was receiving workers’ compensation benefits, including wage-replacement checks. (Read about it here.)

L&I investigated the case based on an anonymous tip to the department.

L&I has many staff who look for, investigate and hold people responsible for defrauding workers’ compensation and other programs administered by L&I. We refer the most egregious cases to the Washington Attorney General for criminal prosecution.

But we welcome information from the public. We follow up on every tip. If you suspect fraud, report tips at www.Fraud.Lni.wa.gov or call 1-888-811-5974.


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Saving a life was all in a day’s work for these heroes


September 25, 2014
By Elaine Fischer

image
Tom Vessey

Tom Vessey is credited with saving the lives of two people during an early morning carbon monoxide leak inside their home in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.

Tom has worked in Puget Sound Energy’s Gas First Response unit for the past 27 years. On March 26, he took a call from dispatch at 3:30 a.m. from a homeowner reporting that her carbon monoxide detector was sounding an alarm. Vessey checked the fireplace, range and water heater in the townhouse but didn’t find any major problems. As they closed the windows, which had been opened to air out the residence, the carbon monoxide levels spiked again. Tom then went to a neighboring townhouse to look for a problem. There he found an unoccupied car with its lights on running in the garage. He called 911, and the Seattle fire and police arrived and kicked in the door. They found a semi-conscious couple in their 30s collapsed at the top of a staircase. They and their dog were rushed outside. Thanks to Tom’s training and quick actions, all survived this potentially deadly incident.

Tom and 22 other Washingtonians were honored with the Governor’s Lifesaving Award at the Governor’s Industrial Safety & Health Conference in Spokane today. Check out the stories of the other amazing winners who stepped up to help save a life: http://lni.wa.gov/News/files/20140923FactSheetLifesavingAwards.pdf


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Recipe for fraud: Busing dishes, prepping food while claiming arms are too weak to work


September 24, 2014
By Debby Abe

Check out this undercover video clip of a Spokane Valley woman who was caught in a workers’ comp scam.

An L&I investigator videotaped the woman, Wanitta Racicot, in August 2011 performing a variety of tasks to operate the Spokane restaurant she co-owned at the time. Footage shows her prepping food, busing dishes, scrubbing floors, carrying groceries, driving and doing other activities. The same month, Racicot told an L&I investigator that her hands were so disabled from an earlier work injury that she couldn’t even button her shirts or put on earrings.

Last week, Racicot pleaded guilty to first-degree theft, and was sentenced to 60 days confinement, converted to electronic home monitoring. The court also ordered Racicot to repay the state $125,000. Read more about it here.

There’s no free tab for workers’ comp fraud.


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Meet L&I at the fair - and fall home shows


September 18, 2014
By Debby Abe


Meet outreach specialists Rebecca Llewellyn (left) and Julie Perales at L&I’s booth at the fair and home shows.

Sometimes there’s no better way to get help than talking face to face.

You’ll get the chance to do just that over the next few weeks.  L&I outreach specialists will be at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup Thursday, Sept. 18, through Saturday, Sept. 20, and at home shows around the state from late September through mid-October to answer your questions about hiring construction contractors. Here’s the list of their fall appearances.

If you’re thinking of tackling a home remodeling project, visit the L&I booth to:

  • Get a free “Hire Smart” worksheet to help you plan your project.
  • Learn how to verify a contractor’s license by using www.Verify.Lni.wa.gov.
  • Find out what a “notice to customer disclosure statement” is. Hint: State law requires contractors to give you one before starting projects worth more than $1,000.

If you can’t make it to the fair or home show, visit www.ProtectMyHome.net for tips about hiring contractors.  And if you don’t have access to the Internet, check to see if a contractor is registered by calling L&I at 1-800-647-0982.

Take advantage of this free advice. It could save you thousands of dollars, countless headaches and a botched remodeling job.


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Easing tensions in wage complaints


September 16, 2014
By Matthew Erlich

At L&I, we receive thousands of wage complaints annually and each can be tense for employer and worker. It’s our industrial relations agents who can make all the difference for both sides.

A May wage complaint filed against a Redmond company turned into a compliment after the work of Ana Gamino. Ana investigated the case against NKS Home Services that resulted in complimentary comments for L&I from owner Hong Sodona.

“As a new small business owner, receiving a notice from a government agency can be quite intimidating,” wrote Hong. “Ana’s professionalism, kindness and patience helped guide me every step of the way towards resolving the issue following the law. Her grace and professionalism has won my trust to your agency.”

Here’s how Ana did it: We received a complaint for $920.90 for unpaid overtime against NKS. Also, there was an allegation the employer had been deducting $400 from the employee without consent.

As to the $400, it turned out it was being deducted as a previously agreed-to payback for a loan. “I informed the employee that I interpreted this as an implied agreement and that I did not agree that we should have the employer pay back the deductions,” Ana explained. The employee still owes $6,500.

But the overtime was another matter. NKS agreed it was their company’s mistake and forwarded payment after Ana’s explanation. “The employer was brand new and needed guidance in different areas,” Ana explained. “We went over the best practices to avoid these types of complaints.”

Hong said the information was helpful. “She forwarded me the related laws and explained to me in details my responsibility as a business owner and gave me advice to avoid issues in the future,” Hong said. “She treated me with respect and complete professionalism.”

L&I Director Joel Sacks also credited Ana for her work, and noted the agency has limited chances to make a good impression. “We build our reputation one interaction at a time,” he said.

In 2013, we received 3,867 wage complaints and returned $3.3 million to workers. Since passage of the Wage Payment Act in 2006, we have collected and returned approximately $13 million in unpaid wages to nearly 20,000 Washington workers.

Workers can file a wage complaint with us at https://secure.lni.wa.gov/wagecomplaint/. A complaint must contain a sufficient description of hours worked and wages owed. In most cases, we will give the employer a copy of the complaint, including the name of the worker. It is against the law for a business to fire or otherwise discriminate against you for filing a complaint about a possible violation of your workplace rights.


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Success story: Store manager finds new job with help from WorkSource


September 11, 2014
By Walter Hughes

Every day I work with injured workers looking for re-employment opportunities. Sometimes, we hit a home run right away. Other times, helping an injured worker find employment is like going from one base to another until getting home to a job.

Rebecca’s return-to-work story is a home run worth sharing.

In February 2013, Rebecca injured her wrists while working as a manager for a party store – a job she couldn’t return to after her injury.

As a Labor & Industries (L&I) customer without a job, Rebecca started working with a private vocational counselor, Autumn Henderson from People Systems. She also became a candidate for L&I’s Preferred Worker Program – a program that offers employers financial incentive to hire an injured worker.

Rebecca’s vocational counselor, Autumn, was on the ball and contacted me to set up a meeting. Together, we discussed how WorkSource could help Rebecca find employment that was similar to what she had when she was injured. We established an action plan that would help her find a new position.

While working with both her private vocational counselor and with the resources available through me at WorkSource, Rebecca attended the weekly Return-to-Work Job Club and drop-in computer labs regularly.

As a former-manager, helping others came naturally to Rebecca. While she worked through her own recovery and re-employment, she was always helping others in the computer lab and fully participated in the job clubs. She was always willing to try something new. Her motivation and upbeat attitude was infectious and a welcome quality in someone looking for work and recovering from an injury at the same time.

One day, Rebecca asked for help with an upcoming job interview as an Assistant Store Manager at Walmart. The Return-to-Work Job Club participants set up a mock-interview with Rebecca and offered her feedback. She was confident when she left for her interview that afternoon.

Two days later, Rebecca called me to say she got the job!

Rebecca credited the Return to Work Job Club Professional Panel for helping in her successful re-employment.

Later, when her employer needed to hire more staff, Rebecca wanted to connect as many preferred workers, like herself, to her store.

Knowing that the Preferred Worker Program had benefited her, Rebecca wanted to keep utilizing that program for the benefit of other injured workers and her employer.

Since meeting Rebecca, WorkSource Everett has held several hiring events for Walmart. Several people from The Return-to-Work Job Club have interviewed with Rebecca and other managers from Walmart.

Rebecca is staying in touch and will attend the WorkSource professional job panel set up for job club members in October. This time, Rebecca will attend as a panelist, not a job seeker. She wants to help inspire and encourage people who are facing the same challenges she faced.

With the help of Rebecca’s private vocational counselor, the Preferred Worker Program, and the resources of WorkSource-Everett, we worked together to assist Rebecca in recovering from her injury to find re-employment.

Between 130 and 150 injured workers are involved in the Preferred Worker Program at any given time. At WorkSource-Everett, in our first program year, we supported 101 injured workers looking for jobs. Nearly 47% of those have returned to work, and after working with us, 93% of people exiting this program became employed within two-to-three months.

Our goal is to help injured workers back to work quickly and safety so they can continue living their lives after an injury with full productivity. The ideal is to have them stay with their employer of injury, but if that is not possible, we’ll work to find them employment with another employer.


Walter Hughes is a re-employment specialist at WorkSource-Everett. He is under contract with the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries on a return-to-work pilot project established in partnership with the Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD). Hughes is one of three ESD re-employment specialists who have been helping L&I customers find re-employment after a workplace injury – a benefit provided to injured workers through the Washington Worker’s Compensation Program.


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Don’t do this at work!


September 8, 2014
By Aaron Hoffman and Elaine Fischer

Do you get the feeling these guys are looking down on the rest of us?

An L&I inspector took these pictures while out in the field.

Lack of fall protection was the fourth most common workplace safety violation cited by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health in 2013. Cutting corners while exposed to falls is a deadly combination that can lead to serious tragedy.

If you need help with workplace safety and health issues, or if you just have questions, contact L&I’s Consultation Services for help. You can get free and confidential help from safety and health experts! 


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Medical providers – Got something you want to tell us?


September 2, 2014
By Mary Kaempfe

Many of you will soon get that chance! It’s time for L&I’s 4th biennial survey of medical providers. About 1,000 of you will be contacted about your satisfaction in treating injured workers and working with L&I.

Our survey partner this year is Data Recognition Corporation (DRC), a private survey firm. From September through October, they will conduct a phone and online survey of doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants who treat injured workers in Washington. Watch for your letter with the survey link and access PIN. If the survey firm contacts you, please respond. Your identity won’t be known to L&I staff unless you give the OK.

We want to know what we’re doing well and what we need to do to make it easier for you to treat injured workers. The survey will ask about your:

  • Satisfaction treating injured workers and working with L&I.
  • Awareness of L&I tools and resources designed for providers, as well as their usefulness.
  • Suggestions for making L&I a better business partner.

Past survey results have been used to:

  • Help change a law so we could meet your need for less L&I paper mail.
  • Support the development of e-Correspondence, a quick and efficient way to receive, route, and process claims-related mail from L&I online.
  • Dedicate staff to help providers understand claims and billing processes.
  • Train L&I staff on the realities of the provider’s work environment and where L&I fits in.

We will publish the survey results early next year.

In addition to the survey, provider comments and suggestions are always welcome at ProviderFeedback@Lni.wa.gov. (Please don’t send information about specific injured workers via email.)


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Behind the story of electricians and their rabbits


August 27, 2014
By Matthew Erlich

Did you hear Tacoma resident Haley Masbruch on National Public Radio talking about how rabbits disappear?

She’s not a magician — she’s in the Southwest Washington Electrical apprenticeship program. She was explaining that “rabbits” refer to leftover copper wire and how quickly that copper can disappear if not secured.The interview was part of the “trade lingo” segment where NPR features different professions with their insider terminology.

You can read or listen to the story here, but what’s behind the story is even better.

Haley has some high school education and is in her second year as an Inside Wireman apprenticeship, making about $30 an hour (70% of a Journey-level wage). That’s the same pay scale as someone with a 4-year engineering degree in a starter job!

There is a lot of opportunity in apprenticeships. You can learn more about becoming an apprentice at our website.

As for Haley, she told NPR she enjoys being an electrician because she likes to do physical work that engages her mind. Being an electrician does both, she said.


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Logger Safety Initiative hits 100!


August 18, 2014
By Christopher Bowe

Less than a year after its launch, the Logger Safety Initiative (LSI) has enrolled 103 logging employers and 9 forestry landowners! By joining LSI, logging employers and landowners are committing to taking the lead in ensuring worker health and safety is the #1 priority, and assuring accountability for safety on the worksite.

As you’re probably aware, logging is a hazardous industry. The injury rate and the severity of those injuries in non-mechanized (manual) logging are high. As a result, the base rate premiums in the manual logging risk class exceed $20 per worker hour. In 2013, the logging industry, along with concerned landowners and the Department of Natural Resources, partnered with L&I in the search of some reasonable ways to assist employers with safety and health issues out in the woods. Out of this collaborative effort came the LSI program.

LSI is a collaborative effort that provides voluntary improvements to worker protection and safety.

Logging companies that enroll in LSI commit to creating a safe and healthy workplace through rigorous training, education, and implementation of an accident prevention program that contains the LSI certification requirements for safe work practices.

Firms that sign up enter into a tiered discount on workers’ compensation premium rates, which allows them to invest into their safety and health program. Logging firms must pass an independent third-party safety audit verification of the LSI Logger Safety Program in order to become LSI certified.

While the focus is on the manual or hand-cutting side of operations, the overarching goal is to create a culture of “safety first” for all logging industry employers and workers.

For more information about the program, please visit: www.loggersafety.org


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