West / Regional Reports

New Certifications Required in Washington, Oregon

January 15, 2001
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Technicians in Washington and Oregon are facing laws that have made specific certifications mandatory in order to conduct their work. This includes brazing certification for Oregon and electrical certification in Washington. Although these two states require separate certifications, both are in the predicament that their technicians must be certified in the proper area, or by law they will not be allowed to continue certain practices.

Brazing Certification

Technicians in Oregon have until July 2001 to pass their brazing certification test if they are required by their job to braze refrigerant piping.

According to Dick Stilwill, of the Oregon Chapter of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (OACCA), the certification was put into place by suggestion of a state committee and by the Oregon Boiler Board.

The original draft of the legislation made it mandatory for all technicians who braze refrigerant piping to obtain a state certification. Stilwill says that certification was prompted by fears of improper brazing leading to harmful levels of refrigerant in the atmosphere.

“People were concerned about leaks in tubing,” Stilwill says. “They pulled together a rule that says everyone must be certified.”

But through appeals to the state board, contractors were able to change the proposal, resulting in a more flexible standard. Instead of all technicians being required to obtain brazing certification, it is now mandatory for any technician who works on piping 2-in. dia and above to be certified. Also, certification is required for any technician who will be brazing in homes, condominiums, restaurants, and other commercial spaces.

The brazing certification has led the OACCA to establish a training course and a subsequent brazing test to certify technicians. A syllabus for the class was submitted to the state board early in December, and the ACCA chapter hopes to begin training soon. Technicians must pass the brazing test with a “C” average in order to obtain brazing certification.

Stilwill says that contractors and technicians are beginning to accept the law. In fact, Stilwill feels that the legislation may be worthy. “If you require a certain level of expertise, it raises the industry as a whole.”

Ron Hardy, OACCA secretary and treasurer, and contractor for Hardy Plumbing and Heating, says that the brazing certification came out of competition with union pipefitters. He says that the only technicians certified to do brazing are union fitters, and this would take certain jobs away from contractors.

By working with the state and with a local union, amendments were made to allow non-union technicians to earn a brazing certification.

“This is just another thing we need to deal with,” he said. “It basically drives the cost of labor up.”

For more information on the brazing certification, contact OACCA at 360-834-3805.



Electrical Certification

Technicians in the state of Washington are facing a different mandatory certification.

By March 1, 2002, all technicians must pass an electrical certification exam to do low-voltage installations and to work on the high-voltage systems within hvacr equipment.

Lavelle Perin is the director of the Inland Northwest HVAC Association & Training Center. The center helps educate industry members in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington.

Since the inception of the legislation, Perin and her association have been trying to keep on top of making the area industry aware of the responsibility to comply with the law and pass the exam.

Perin, along with Karen Peacy from Olympic Mechanical and Art Dobson of MacDonald-Miller, worked with the state’s Department of Labor & Indus-tries (L&I) to ensure that the final rules would allow contractors to perform their work efficiently and cost-effectively. But this has not been especially easy. According to Perin, the legislation was to become effective as of March 1, 2000. She explains that the word did not get out to many contractors and the date was postponed to June 1, 2000. More problems pushed the date back once again.

As the legislation now stands, all technicians must pass an electrical certification test by March 1, 2002. The industry in Washington is in a warning period until June 30, 2001. If a technician is found doing any electrical work without having applied to L&I for certification (or, if they have less than two years of experience, working under the supervision of a proper specialty electrical technician), he or she will not be cited, but instead issued a warning. Violators will have ten days to comply with the requirements and apply for certification.

Perin encourages all technicians to sign up and take the test no later than October 2001. The final testing date in Washington for the certification is the first Saturday in February in 2002.

Technicians who do not pass their test by March 1, 2002 will lose their ability to grandfather their experience and will have to work supervised for another year before they can become certified.

“If they run out of time and do not pass their test,” Perin said, “they have to work supervised. It’s basically like being an apprentice.”

Perin adds that the law only allows a journeyman or a specialty electrician to do any electrical work. If a technician does not pass the exam in time, he or she must go back into the field for another year, gain necessary experience, and then retake the exam.

One hard-fought concession gained from L&I allows first-year trainees to run thermostat wires, although they cannot connect them until the second year. Also, hvacr specialty techs will be allowed to replace up to a 6 ft whip in a retrofit. These and several other small concessions will allow contractors to continue doing their jobs.

Washington’s electrical legislation used to exempt hvac technicians and any contractor working with low-voltage equipment. In 1999, concern was brought to the state that this past legislation might be illegal. Washington’s attorney general agreed and changed the legislation so that no one would be exempt from certification.

This change in the legislation would have allowed only journeymen electricians to do any kind of hvacr work requiring electrical wiring or involving the high voltage within the equipment.

After contractors voiced concerns, L&I allowed a grandfather clause that enables contractors and technicians with a minimum of two years experience to apply for a third-year trainee card, which would allow them to work unsupervised and supervise others. They would then have until March 1, 2002 to take the test and complete certification.

Russ Lunde, contractor for Banner Furnace & Fuel in Spokane, WA, says that there are no real drawbacks to the new legislation. The only downside will be the cost of testing and possible expenses related to training his technicians. But Lunde is confident that most of his employees already have the training they need to obtain their certification.

Although the certification will not have any lasting negative effects on Lunde’s business, he shares the same attitude of most of his technicians, that the certification is unnecessary.

“I’m totally against it,” Lunde said. “But they made it a law and we have to abide by the law.”

For more information on test dates and training for the electrical certification, contact Lavelle Perin at 509-747-8810.

This report provides information for contractors living in the Norhtwest/Upper Midwest region of the United States. This includes Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska. If you have information from this region, please contact James J. Siegel at 248-244-1731; 248-362-0317 (fax); or siegelj@bnp.com (e-mail).

Publication date: 1/15/2001 Web date: 06/18/2001

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