Special to Iredell Free News
RALEIGH — Struck-by incidents caused the largest number of work-related deaths last year in the Tar Heel state, based on preliminary information released today by the state Department of Labor. The department’s Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Division inspected 65 non COVID-19 work-related fatalities in 2020. The division also inspected 26 cases reported as deaths related to COVID-19.
“All of these work-related deaths are difficult to process, no matter the cause,” Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson said. “Safety and health are in the forefront of all of our minds as we work to navigate this current public health crisis. In 2021, we will continue working toward our core mission by concentrating our education, training and compliance resources on high hazard industries, while also working with employers and employees on best practices for reducing the risk of COVID-19 in the workplace.”
The OSH Division tracks work-related deaths that fall within its jurisdictional authority so it can pinpoint where fatalities are occurring and place special emphasis on counties or regions where deaths on the job are happening. By tracking fatalities in real time, the department can also notify industries of any concerning patterns or trends identified and issue hazard alerts.
“In addition to our traditional core mission activities, the OSH Division shifted its focus in March when workplace complaints concerning COVID-19 began to surface,” said Kevin Beauregard, director of the state OSH Division. “We met with some of the industries that had been impacted the most from the rapid spread of the disease among their workforce and the OSH Division, along with the CDC, NCDHHS and federal OSHA, developed guidance materials to assist employers in reducing the risk of potential exposures to the coronavirus.
There is a higher probability of exposure to the coronavirus that can lead to COVID-19 in occupational settings where employees have contact with known COVID-19 patients or populations that are more susceptible to COVID-19. This would include — but is not limited to — healthcare facilities such as hospitals, medical doctor offices, nursing homes and long-term care facilities.”
The OSH Division partners 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 construction industry suffered the most work-related fatalities with 26 in 2020, five more than in 2019. The services industry had the second highest number of work-related deaths with 22, an increase of 15 from the previous year. Manufacturing had the third highest number of work-related deaths with 15, seven more than in 2019.
In addition, agriculture, forestry, and fishing had 12 fatalities in 2020, an increase from four in 2019. There were also five fatalities in the transportation and public utility industry, a decrease from nine in 2019. Government experienced nine workplace fatalities. There were two work-related fatalities in wholesale trade.
There were no work-related fatalities in 55 of North Carolina’s 100 counties. Mecklenburg County led with nine workplace fatalities, followed by Wake County with eight, and Guilford with six.
Catawba, Gaston, Iredell and Wilson counties experienced four fatalities each. Caldwell and Davidson experienced three fatalities each. Duplin, Durham, Forsyth, Haywood, Henderson, Johnston, Lee, Moore, Rockingham, Union and Wilkes experienced two fatalities each. Twenty-four counties experienced one fatality.
Whites accounted for 43 of the 65 non COVID-19 work-related fatalities. Blacks accounted for seven and Hispanics for 14. Men accounted for 61 deaths. Women accounted for four workplace deaths.
The state figures exclude certain fatalities that fall outside its jurisdictional authority. These include traffic accidents, which account for nearly half of all work-related deaths, as well as homicides and suicides that are investigated by law enforcement agencies. The count also excludes fatalities investigated by federal OSHA and other exemptions in which the department does not have the authority to investigate, such as on farms with 10 or fewer employees.
Federal figures compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with cooperation of NCDOL, include all work-related fatalities. The federal figures for 2019, the latest figures available, can be found on the BLS website. Data for 2020 will be available in December.
Businesses may call 1-800-NC-LABOR to learn more about free safety training opportunities provided by NCDOL or visit https://www.labor.nc.gov/.