The North Carolina Occupational and Safety Health Administration has recently received a lot of press for decreasing fines levied against companies violating safety regulations across the state. A recent report by the National Council on Occupational Safety and Health highlights the story of a 39-year-old worker who died as a result of injuries on the job after a trench he was working in caved in on him. His employer had been cited many times previously for violating trench safety standards and was even fined, but the fines were reduced to negligible amounts each time, and even to zero on one occasion.
The tragic story underscores the larger problem identified in the report-employers are not pushed to correct an unsafe working environment because penalties are too low and repeat offenders are let off too easily. These factors contribute to the high number of worker deaths in the state, according to the report. North Carolina employees and family members may not be aware that they may be able to file a workers’ compensation claim for a loved one who passes away while performing their job.
The report contends that the state is underreporting worker deaths-the official number was 35 in 2012, but the real number is more than three times the official number. This may be because the state does not count workplace violence fatalities, traffic accidents and fatalities among the self-employed in the statistics relating to worker deaths. Statistics show that transportation accidents were the leading cause of worker death in the state in the five years ending in 2011.
Even though the workplace injury rate is going down, many injuries and deaths that occur on the job are preventable. Every employer has the duty to create a safe working environment for their employees and employees have the right to file a worker’s compensation claim in case they don’t. A workers’ compensation claim can help ease the financial burden associated with medical treatment, by providing a number of monetary benefits in addition to medical treatment
Source: Charlotte Observer, “NC job deaths undercounted, study finds,” Ames Alexander, April 30, 2013