North Carolina Worker Deaths Higher Than State Reports

The number of North Carolina workers who are killed on the job is nearly three times higher than what the state reports, according to a recent study by the National Council on Occupational Safety and Health.
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The disparity is believed to stem from the fact that the state has numerous incentives to keep that figure as low as possible, according to the non-profit safety council’s executive director.

As our Asheville workers’ compensation lawyers understand it, the North Carolina Department of Labor reported that in 2011, there were 53 workplace fatalities. That was reported as a slight uptick of three deaths from what had been reported the previous year. (Eighty percent of those were attributed to workers being struck by a vehicle, falling, being crushed by objects and heat-related illnesses.)

However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the actual number of workplace deaths that year was 148.

In 2012, the labor department estimates there were 35 work-related deaths. The safety council said it was able to identify by name at least 68 North Carolina workers who had died on the job that year, and says actual estimates from the BLS are around 129. That doesn’t include workplace illnesses resulting in death, which tend to be under-reported in official data.

In fact, the safety council says that between 2007 and 2011, the state’s labor department only reported about 32 percent of the actual workplace deaths that occurred in North Carolina. During that five-year time frame, the safety council says, there were in fact 744 people who died on the job.

Of those, the majority were felled by transportation incidents. However, the next most-common cause of death was assault or other violent act. This was followed by contact with objects, then falls and then exposure to harmful substances and environments. About 20 were from explosions or fires.

The labor department reports only those workplace deaths over which it has the authority to investigate. One of the big gaping holes in the state’s figures is the number of workplace deaths attributed to violence. Another is transportation fatalities, which the state labor department concedes it can’t by law investigate and wouldn’t have to the staff to do so even if it could. The agency also doesn’t tally deaths of those who are self-employed.

Despite the wide disparity, the safety council reports that the state’s fatality rate has dipped markedly over the last 10 years, making it now equal to the national average of about 3.7 per 100,000. The national average is 3.75 per 100,000.

But the fact of the matter remains that there is much more we could be doing. Deciding how best to do that requires that we have an accurate picture of how many workers are being killed or injured and why.

Moving forward, the safety council says special focus needs to be paid to immigrant workers, who are overrepresented in the number of work-related fatality figures. Between 2011 and 2012, nearly 30 percent of those killed on the job were Hispanic – which is 3.5 times their relative population in the state. This is striking especially when you consider that by that time, thousands of Hispanic immigrants had already left the state once the construction industry began to fizzle as a result of the dragging economy.

If you or a loved one is involved in an accident, contact Grimes Teich Anderson LLP. Call 1.800.533.6845.

Additional Resources:
North Carolina Workplace Deaths Nearly Three Times That Reported By State: Study, April 30, 2013, By Jillian Berman, The Huffington Post
More Blog Entries:
Workers’ Compensation and Mental Health Benefits in South Carolina, April 3, 2013, Asheville Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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