Improving efficiencies and enhancing services at DLI

Q & A with DLI Commissioner Nicole Blissenbach

Q: The Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) plays a key role in the housing industry. What are your top priorities as commissioner of DLI?

NB: DLI continues to seek ways to improve our efficiencies and services to stakeholders. This legislative session, our agency has several licensing proposals to reduce fees where possible and clarify when a contractor license is required for building a new or improving an existing house for resale.

This session, we are also looking to enhance safety and remove unnecessary regulatory burdens. One example of this is to remove a costly and ineffective requirement to install window-washing anchors on sloped roofs of multifamily housing structures, where it was never intended to be used.

The goal is to expand the options available to building owners to have their windows
cleaned in ways that are most appropriate to their particular building’s location, height and number of stories.

We continue to look for ways to mitigate the effects of climate change by improving the efficiency of our energy codes where possible and practical.

Q: With oversight of codes, inspectors, safety and contractors, DLI is the key state-level regulator. How do you see the agency approaching the dual role of critical partner and enforcement regulator in the coming years?

NB: Our agency remains focused on engagement and outreach to affected stakeholders. We can’t successfully create enforceable codes or safety standards if we don’t collaborate with impacted industries to understand what needs to be addressed and how to do it in the most reasonable, cost-effective manner.

One of the most successful ways we have done this with the building code is through the Construction Codes Advisory Council’s (CCAC’s) Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs). DLI regulators work together with building industry representatives to review new model codes for adoption into the State Building Code and provide a review of and comment about proposed legislation.

DLI also meets annually with the leadership of our homebuilding partners to listen to their concerns, share ideas and identify ways we can mutually meet our goals by working

Minnesota OSHA (MNOSHA) Compliance offers free Construction Seminars that feature a presentation about a specific construction safety or health topic – with time for questions, answers and input – plus an update about what’s currently happening regarding investigations. The goal is to provide a safe environment for participants to ask real worksite questions and get honest answers that promote practical worksite safety and health solutions.

Q: This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Minnesota Building Code. What has made the past five decades a success?

NB: Our most recent successes include reforming how we adopt codes and make them available to all Minnesotans. Perhaps the biggest impact has been in the restructuring of CCAC’s TAGs, which I previously mentioned.

These small, publicly-accessible working groups assign the most impacted stakeholders to study changes in new model codes. They publish their technical recommendations to the larger group of affected stakeholders for public input with final approval from CCAC.

Housing First Minnesota has been a valuable contributor in many of our TAGs. The TAGs have demonstrated their value in being an efficient way of analyzing new code changes and soliciting public input, while creating a
transparent process.

Since 2015, we partnered with the International Code Council (ICC) to create custom codes for Minnesota. DLI removes much of the material in the code books that is not relevant to Minnesota and replaces it with amendments specific to Minnesota. These custom Minnesota code books are available in print and in a fully searchable online version.

We made the commitment in 2015 to ensure all of the Minnesota construction codes were available online at no cost. Since then, our code webpage is the most visited page on our website. We also provide free online access to a Spanish version of the Minnesota Residential Code. DLI recently collaborated with ICC to create the first of its kind Illustrated Field Guide to the Minnesota Residential Building Code.

The goal was to create something useful to simplify code compliance and minimize misunderstandings for both builders and building inspectors by using illustrations, pictures and plain language in a compact and affordable format.

Our most important code successes have been to protect the public’s safety and health. Most of this work is unseen. We will never know how many lives have been saved from fire or structural failure or how many injuries have been prevented from falls, broken glass or electrical shock.

Q: Drawing on your days with Minnesota OSHA, what safety message would you like to send to builders and their trade partners?

NB: Historically, falls have been the leading cause of fatalities in construction, accounting for more than one-third of all fatalities in the industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that of the 986 construction fatalities reported in 2021, 378 were related to falls.

MNOSHA Compliance recognizes incidents involving falls are generally complex events, involving a variety of factors. Consequently, the standard for fall protection deals with both
human and equipment-related issues in protecting workers from fall hazards. These deaths can be prevented.

Each year in May, MNOSHA Compliance, along with federal OSHA and others, promotes and participates in the annual National Safety Stand-down to Prevent Falls in Construction to raise awareness among employers and workers about fall prevention.

During the stand-down, employers and workers are asked to pause their workday to talk about fall prevention in construction and discuss topics such as ladder safety, scaffolding safety and roofing work safety.