BY DORIS CHANDLER

NYT REGIONAL NEWSPAPERS

GAINESVILLE — The inspection sweep in late July of 848 construction sites by the Florida Division of Workers’ Compensation highlighted a continuing problem of some construction employers not bothering to purchase required workers’ comp coverage. Inspectors issued 100 stop-work orders for violations by employers.

“Contractors who provide coverage to protect their workers continually tell us how difficult it is to compete with those who cheat the system,” said Tom Gallagher, chief of the Florida Department of Financial Services.

Businesses in the construction industry employing one or more workers must provide workers’ comp coverage, which financially protects employees who are injured or killed on the job. Employers who don’t have appropriate coverage can be issued a stop-work order, or SWO, which means they have to immediately stop all work. The SWO can be lifted once the employer obtains proper coverage and pays a civil penalty equal to 11/2 times the workers’ comp premiums avoided initially. Violators of SWOs can be penalized $1,000 per day of violation and may face criminal charges.

An employer’s failure to obtain required workers’ comp coverage can impact more than just the employees.

“There’s a huge risk for the homeowner who acts as his own general contractor,” said William Stander, the Tallahassee-based regional manager of Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, a national trade association with headquarters in Chicago. “You’ll often see admonitions to ensure that the guy doing work on your house has workers’ comp and general liability, because if not, and one of the guy’s employees get injured, you could be sued.”

Stander said his association strongly supported the Legislature’s 2003 reforms to worker’s comp regulations.

Gallagher’s department has established the Compliance Stop Work Order Database, www.fldfs.com/wc/, which is updated daily and displays employers who have been issued stop work orders. Click on the “Databases” link and then on the “Compliance Stop Worker Order” database.