Study finds North Carolina workplace fatalities higher than reported

A study issued by the National Council on Occupational Safety and Health in April 2013 revealed that the number of on-the-job deaths that occur in North Carolina is about three times higher than the state reported. The study also revealed that many of these fatalities are preventable.

Underreported workplace fatalities

The North Carolina Department of Labor releases labor fatality statistics for the previous year each January. In January 2012, the NC DOL reported that 53 workers died in the state in 2011. However, researchers at NCOS looked at data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries for 2011 and found 148 workplace fatalities in North Carolina, almost three times the figure reported by the state. NCOS researchers found that on average the state only reported 32 percent of workplace fatalities for the years 2007-2011.

The CFOI is a much more comprehensive study than the state report and comes out much later in the year than the state's data. The CFOI also includes fatalities that the state does not investigate, such as transportation fatalities and deaths from workplace violence. The data in the CFOI gives a more complete picture of workplace dangers than the NC DOL statistics present.

The NCOS study estimated that the workplace fatality figure for North Carolina in 2012 was 129, rather than the 35 deaths that the NC DOL report in January 2013. Researchers from the NCOS positively identified the names of 68 people who died of workplace injuries, almost twice the figure the state reported. Researchers used the error rates of previous years to reach their estimate for 2012.

Preventable deaths

Authors of the study contend that many of the workplace fatalities that occur in North Carolina could be reduced. The study showed that 744 people died in North Carolina while working. The leading cause of workplace deaths during that time was transportation accidents, responsible for 291 fatalities, followed by 151 deaths due to assault or other violence, 121 deaths from contact with objects, 109 fatalities from falling, 52 deaths from exposure to harmful substances and 19 deaths from fires or explosions.

Researchers found that the North Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued fines that were too low to deter employers from having unsafe work conditions for employees. The average fine was about $1,309.95 for a serious violation where conditions posed a threat of great bodily harm to employees, even when there was a fatality. The NC OSHA was also less likely to classify violations as "serious" than the federal OSHA, meaning that the fines for unsafe employers are even lower.

Speak with an attorney

Laws exist to protect workers by ensuring that they have safe workplaces. However, those laws only protect employees when the government enforces the laws. Many employers do not take the laws seriously because they do not feel they need to, putting their employees at risk. If you have been injured at work, talk to an experienced workers' compensation attorney who can help you obtain the benefits you need to recover.