State of Alaska Holds Employer Accountable for Fatal Wall Collapse

10/18/17
WorkersCompensation.com

Anchorage, AK (WorkersCompensation.com) – Contractor Mark Welty, d/b/a North Country Services, has withdrawn his contest of $280,000 in fines assessed by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The department cited him for hazards leading to the workplace death of his employee, Nicholson Tinker. Mr. Welty unlawfully claimed that Mr. Tinker as an “independent contractor” rather than an employee, and willfully exposed Mr. Tinker to unsafe working conditions. The citations and fines will stand as originally imposed by Alaska Occupational Safety and Health (AKOSH).

“Nothing can bring back Nicholson Tinker. I hope this fine sends a clear message. When employers like Mark Welty endanger their workers and unlawfully classify them as independent contractors, our department will seek the strongest penalties possible,” said Alaska Labor Commissioner Heidi Drygas.

On September 30, 2016, Mr. Tinker and his coworker were demolishing wooden stairs and walkways attached to a 60-foot retaining wall at an Anchorage residence. As demolition neared completion, the sole remaining structural support was removed, causing a 29-foot section of the five-foot tall cinderblock wall to collapse on Mr. Tinker, who died from his injuries. This fatality would not have happened if North Country Services owner Mark Welty had taken basic steps to protect the safety of Mr. Tinker and other employees. Instead, Mr. Welty accepted the violations as willful, meaning he acted with plain indifference towards the health and safety of his employees. The violations addressed several critical failures during the planning phase of the job, including lack of proper structural assessment before demolition, inadequate or lack of bracing and shoring for the wall and retained earth, and a total lack of safety training for employees.

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Governor Bill Walker signed a Responsible Contracting Administrative Order (AK)

July 27, 2017
Since taking office, Governor Walker has prioritized strengthening the rights of working Alaskans. At his direction, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development has stepped up enforcement of workplace safety and health laws, wage and hour protections, and efforts to combat worker misclassification. At noon on Thursday, July 27th Governor Walker will sign the Responsible Contracting Administrative Order, which will embed safety, health and labor rights compliance in the State’s contracting processes. Please join Governor Walker, Labor Commissioner Heidi Drygas, and labor and business stakeholders for the signing ceremony and a luncheon to celebrate this momentous progress in ensuring state contracts are awarded to responsible businesses.
 
Responsible Contracting Administrative Order 
  • The Responsible Contracting Administrative Order requires the Department of Administration to work with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development and the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to develop regulations that ensure state contracts are awarded to businesses that comply with state and federal labor laws, including:
    • Alaska Occupational Safety and Health Administration laws
    • Alaska Wage and Hour Act
    • Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act
    • Fair Labor Standards Act
    • Davis-Bacon and Little Davis-Bacon Acts
    • Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act
    • National Labor Relations Act
    • Employment Security Tax Laws
  • The Department of Administration will also consider regulations to address debarment and suspension of contractors who have serious violations of workplace safety and labor laws
Benefits of the Responsible Contracting Administrative Order
  • State contracting processes will promote safe workplaces and respect workers’ labor rights
  • The State’s financial interests will be further protected by ensuring responsible businesses are used for state contracts
  • Improvements to workplace safety will facilitate long-term reductions in workers’ compensation insurance costs, as research shows labor rights abuses are associated with higher rates of workplace injury

(See Full Copy of Administrative Order)

Bill would define independent contractors, reform worker’s compensations system (AK)

21 FEBRUARY 2017 BY MILITARY NEWS

The state is trying to combat employee misclassification by tightening the reins on definitions of independent contractors versus employees.

Independent contractors work on a freelance basis for employers, but the relationship can flirt with the line between contractor and employee. Some companies intentionally call their employees independent contractors to avoid paying payroll taxes and worker’s compensation insurance premiums for them. Some employers also avoid the costs by reporting employees in lower-paying job categories.

House Bill 79, an omnibus worker’s compensation reform bill sponsored by Gov. Bill Walker, would outline an 11-point litmus test for independent contractors, defining when misclassification amounts to fraud. It also makes it the employee’s duty to report work and receipt of other wage-loss replacement benefits, according to Walker’s transmittal letter with the bill.

During an initial hearing on the bill Monday, Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Heidi Drygas and Division of Worker’s Compensation Director Marie Marx explained the details of the bills to the House Labor and Commerce Committee. The Worker’s Compensation Board, a citizen board advising the state on worker’s compensation issues, has been tackling the misclassification problem for some time, Marx said.

“We do not want to prevent true independent contractors from operating – we want them to operate,” she said. “We just want to make sure that those employers who are following the law operate on the same level playing field as those that do not.”

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