Special to Iredell Free News
RALEIGH — Falls caused the largest number of work-related fatal incidents in the Tar Heel state in 2019, based on preliminary information released today by the N.C. Department of Labor.
Falls accounted for 17 of the 53 fatal incidents that fell within the NCDOL Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Division’s jurisdictional authority. Struck-by incidents followed closely, accounting for 15 of the 53 fatal workplace deaths last year.
“It is critical that every employer ensures that new hires and existing employees are properly trained to do the jobs they are assigned to do and that they are provided with the proper safety equipment to do those jobs,” Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry said. “NCDOL has the tools to assist employers with proper training and safety equipment. Our goal and everyone’s goal should be that your employees go home safely to their families and loved ones at the end of the day. No goal is more important than that.”
Not all work-related fatal incidents fall within the jurisdictional authority of the OSH Division and therefore are not included in the OSH Division’s count. Traffic accidents, for instance, account for most work-related deaths each year and fall outside the division’s jurisdiction. Traffic accidents, along with homicides and suicides, are inspected by law enforcement.
The OSH Division fatality count excludes fatalities investigated by federal OSHA, sole proprietorships and other exemptions in which the department does not have the authority to investigate, such as on farms with 10 or fewer employees that have not had temporary labor camp activity within the previous 12 months.
Federal figures compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with cooperation of NCDOL, include all work-related fatalities. The federal figures can be found on the BLS website. Fatality data for 2019 will be published in the fourth quarter of 2020.
The construction industry continues to be the most hazardous industry in the state, accounting for 20 work-related deaths, four more than in 2018. The N.C. Department of Labor will continue its special emphasis program for construction to maximize its resources and pinpoint problem areas.
Part of the OSH Division’s strategy to reduce work-related fatalities includes encouraging employer and employee participation in various safety and health outreach activities. The OSH Division also works with businesses and organizations that represent some of the most hazardous industries through partnerships and alliances to heighten industry awareness and assist with education and training.
The OSH Division has participated in a federal OSHA campaign to prevent falls in construction for the past six years. This year the National Safety Stand-Down to prevent falls is scheduled for May 4-8.
“I encourage all construction companies to participate in the stand-down and focus on fall prevention efforts on construction sites to help reduce these preventable deaths,” said Kevin Beauregard, director of the NCDOL OSH Division. “What is troubling about falls is that they can almost always be avoided with proper safety training and use of basic personal protective equipment. The OSH Division will increase construction-related activity in some counties in the spring, especially those identified as having high activity or multiple fatalities.”
One notable increase involved the transportation and public utilities industry, which tied for the second highest number of work-related deaths with eight, an increase from four in 2018. Manufacturing incidents remained the same with eight in 2019. Other increases in 2019 include the retail trade industry from one to three and the services industry from four to seven.
There were no work-related fatalities in 70 of North Carolina’s 100 counties. Mecklenburg County had the most work-related fatalities with seven, followed by Guilford County with four. Buncombe, Orange and Wake Counties each experienced three fatalities. Cabarrus, Carteret, Catawba, Durham, Edgecombe, Lincoln, Randolph and Surry Counties each experienced two fatal workplace incidents. Seventeen counties experienced one fatality.
Whites accounted for 31 of the 53 work-related fatalities. Hispanics accounted for 14. Blacks accounted for seven, and there was one Asian fatality. Men accounted for 50 of the 53 deaths. Women accounted for three workplace deaths.
While fatalities continue to fluctuate, North Carolina’s injury and illness rate has steadily declined since 2001 and remains at a historic low 2.4 per 100 full-time workers for 2018.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles the injury and illness rate data. The rate accounts for growth and contraction in total hours worked in industry, which is an important factor in a state like North Carolina that has experienced significant growth.
N.C. Workplace Deaths (2009-2019)
Businesses may call 1-800-NC-LABOR to learn more about free safety training opportunities provided by NCDOL or visit the website.