Archive for May, 2011

Asphalt scammers go to work

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Summer is around the corner, but con artists have already hit the Tri-Cities with asphalt-paving scams.

The state Department of Labor & Industries has been warning homeowners in that area about “contractors” offering to pave and seal-coat driveways on the cheap. The problem is the scammers don’t do a good job, according to L&I.

L&I says the scam typically works like this: a friendly representative approaches a homeowner offering to repave a driveway for a low price, claiming they have just enough asphalt left over from another job nearby. The representatives are usually polite, drive nice work vehicles and can be very persuasive.

But the work they do won’t meet homeowners’ expectations, and both materials and workmanship are often subpar. By the time the victim realizes his or her new driveway is falling apart, the pavers have the victim’s money and are long gone and untraceable, says L&I.

The driveways go bad in several ways: they are built with inferior materials, the asphalt is poured too thinly, the driveway’s foundation was neglected, and drainage wasn’t taken into account.

“We haven’t issued any citations yet in the Tri-Cities area, but we suspect a few of these outfits are doing business there,” said Rich Ervin, L&I’s program manager for contractor registration, in a press release. “We urge any homeowners that have done business with or have been approached by these guys to report it to L&I.”

Victims can report suspicious contractors online or by calling (888) 811-5974.

L&I says this scam happens every summer.

I’m kind of wondering why nobody has taken down the license plates of the perpetrators? Maybe the perps could practice their road-building skills for the Department of Corrections.

Skanska raises nearly $50K for two charities

Friday, May 27th, 2011

The folks at Skanska are at it again. After serving an Italian dinner to cancer patients earlier this year, volunteers from the construction company raised $47,867 for charity during two events this month.

On May 6, 125 employees, friends and family attended the second annual Skanska Big Night Out at Garage Billiards to support Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound. Tickets to the event and a silent auction netted $40,367.

A couple of weeks later, a Skanska-led group of 50 took on the 29th Annual Nordstrom Beat the Bridge run, which benefits the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. The runners raised $7,500, thanks to the help of loved ones, subcontractors and business partners.

Keep up the good work Skanskanians!

Important Nuances in Workers’ Comp Bill

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

This week the Legislature finally ended a months-long impasse and passed reforms of the workers’ compensation system.  The Governor is expected to sign the bill into law.

On balance, we have a package of changes that while not perfect, will help improve the workers’ comp system’s financial condition.  While the element that is (justifiably) getting all the headlines – the structured settlement option – two other provisions could be just as impactful.  One, the bill calls for a claims management performance audit.  Also, the bill sets an occupational disease study to look at, and hopefully make more clear, the fuzzy line between illnesses caused on the job and those caused by other factors.  These two items will provide objective information that could be the basis for longer term reforms.

Here are the details of the bill, as provided by the Governor’s office:

CLAIMS RESOLUTION STRUCTURED SETTLEMENT OPTION: Currently, many older injured workers never return to the work force. Under this proposal, they would be eligible for a structured settlement. This option would apply to those injured workers older than 55 and be phased in to allow workers 50 and older to participate in structured settlements by 2016. The option will allow workers to resolve their claim by taking structured periodic payments equal to at least 25 percent and no more than 150 percent of the state’s average wage per month, or from $982 to $5,976 until the settlement is paid in full. Structured settlements would be approved by the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals and a judge must decide it is in the best interest of an unrepresented worker. This settlement option would exclude medical and could be initiated only after 180 days from the receipt of the claim and after the claim is allowed. This option for a select population of workers is in addition to two options already available: staying in the workers’ compensation system and receiving appropriate benefits; or participating in a retraining plan, if eligible. A structured settlement option should have a significant impact on reducing future rate increases and will bend the cost curve of the workers’ compensation system. Minimum savings, based on age 55 and older: will increase with phase-in. Savings: FY 2012: $335 million; FY 2012–15: $545 million. 

STATEWIDE PROVIDER NETWORK: The legislation focuses on getting the highest quality care to injured workers. Doctors who treat injured workers are required to possess certain credentials to do so. Health care providers are encouraged to follow occupational health practices to return workers to work as safely and quickly as possible. Savings: Fiscal Year 2012: $41 million; Fiscal Years 2012–15: $164 million.

 CENTERS OF OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND EDUCATION: These centers offer proven and effective treatment of injured workers. The legislation expands the number of these specialized facilities so services are available to all injured workers, no matter where they live. Savings: FY 2012: $0; FY 2012–15: $55 million.

 WASHINGTON STAY-AT-WORK PROGRAM: The Stay-at-Work program offers wage subsidies to employers who bring workers back to a job quickly. Under the legislation, half of an injured worker’s wages would be covered for up to 66 days when an employer immediately offers transitional or light-duty work. Savings: FY 2012: $16 million; FY 2012–15: $111 million.

PRIOR DISABILITY AWARDS: Benefits for prior disability awards paid to a worker are deducted from the worker’s pension award. When permanent partial disability awards are paid over time, interest on the unpaid balance will no longer be included. This will help keep costs down and make payments fair. Savings: FY 2012: $99 million; FY 2012–15: $133 million.

 COST-OF-LIVING ADJUSTMENTS: COLA payments would be frozen for one year. This change affects the cash-funded, pay-as-you-go Supplemental Pension Fund. The COLA that would be effective July 1, 2011, is eliminated. The first COLA payment following an injury would be delayed until the second July 1 following an injury. These changes reduce the amount of premiums charged to employers and workers. Savings: FY 2012: $31 million; FY 2012–15: $124 million.

RAINY DAY FUND: The purpose of insurance is to protect employers from huge swings in the economy and unpredictable rate increases. This is why a fund in addition to the State Fund’s contingency reserve makes sense. It will require the transfer of workers’ compensation funds whenever the reserves are greater than 110 percent of liabilities. These funds would be available to reduce rate increases during economic downturns or when liabilities unexpectedly increase. Savings: No fiscal impact.

OTHER ELEMENTS: A fraud prevention initiative, claims management performance audit by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee, occupational disease study, and safety and health investment grants.

UW students go for green

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

The UW team stands in front of Haggett Hall. From left to right: Cyrus Naimi, Brian Taylor, Matt Nugent, Jay Danner, Ryan Hunter and Aaron Yamasaki.

The Huskies are out to defend their winning ways at the Green Energy Challenge sponsored by the National Electrical Contractors of America. In 2009, UW students took first place in the inaugural year of the competition, and were second last year.

This year, the competition involves analyzing a student housing facility to identify retrofits that will reduce energy use. The UW students chose Haggett Hall for their project.

After assessing the condition of the dorm, the team developed a proposal to install automated occupancy sensors, energy-saving light fixtures, and a system to capture heat from sewer lines for reuse as building heat. It also suggested installation of solar panels and insulated exterior cladding.

The students will submit their proposal at the end of the month. A panel will judge the team against similar proposals by students from other universities and pick three finalists in August.

Finalists will present their proposals in October at NECA’s convention in San Diego.

Go Dawgs!

Watts-DelHur wins again

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Photo courtesy of Watts-DelHur

After taking  home the Eagle of Excellence award last month from the ABC of Western Washington, the Watts-DelHur joint venture is at it again — this time grabbing the top honor last night at the AGC of Washington’s Build Washington Awards.

The winning project is the Elwha water facilities in Olympic National Park. Watts-DelHur was able to finish the job a year ahead of schedule partly by diverting the Elwha River to a temporary channel. It also had a perfect safety record.

I can’t recall a contractor (or joint venture) ever winning both local associations’ top awards in one year. On top of that, the project also won an Aon Build America Merit Award earlier this year from the AGC of America.

Way to go W-D!

Sicklesteel Cranes won the grand award for safety at the Build Washington Awards banquet, which was held at the Seattle Marriott Waterfront hotel.

Check out all of the award winners in the DJC’s special section.

Skanska feeds cancer patients

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

Photo courtesy of Skanska

Volunteers from Skanska’s Community Involvement Committee recently served up an Italian dinner to cancer patients from Seattle Cancer Care Alliance House.

Ten Skanska members planned and prepared the meal, which included spaghetti with meatballs, fettuccini Alfredo and a sundae bar.

Skanska officials say the evening was a great escape from the hospital for many SCCA House guests battling cancer.

SCCA House offices are in the Alley24 project with Skanska.

Earlier this year, Skanska teamed with Target to donate nearly 1,000 DVDs for SCCA patients to watch while undergoing treatment.

Skanska recently formed its Community Involvement Committee to build a stronger community through employee volunteerism and philanthropic giving. Good stuff.

Sneek a peek at Gates Foundation campus

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Photo by Benjamin Benschneider, courtesy NBBJ

The DJC is publishing a special section today on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation campus in Seattle. It was quite an accomplishment — just ask the team that designed and built it. Better yet, learn firsthand from the contractor, architects and engineers about how the campus came together by reading the special.

Final Regs for 3% Witholding Released

Monday, May 9th, 2011

Last week the IRS issued final regulations for the implementation of the 3 percent withholding law.

Unless repealed, the law will require federal, state, and local governments to withhold 3 percent from all payments for goods and services as a guard against possible business tax evasion. The withholding applies to the total contract, not to the net revenue generated from a project.  AGC has been fighting this measure, making the arguments that most construction contracts average less than 3 percent profit, tightened cash flow will restrict bonding capacity, and enforcement of current laws would ensure tax obligations are met.

At first blush, it appears the regulations delay the effective date to 1/1/2013 providing an extra year before payments are withheld. But the final regs also sunset the exclusion of payments under existing contracts after one year so that all payments will be subject to withholding as of 1/1/2014.

AGC is analyzing the regulations to discover additional modifications made to the proposed regulations.