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North Carolina employers appeal fines for workplace injuries

Losing a loved one in a tragic workplace accident can place many burdens on family members -- emotional, physical and financial. Though it may not be possible to quantify their loss, the North Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Division does just that when they fine businesses for safety violations that lead to workplace injuries or deaths. However, as an investigative report recently learned, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration often reduces or even removes these fines, allowing businesses to get away with their violations in the eyes of safety experts.

When someone is injured on the job in North Carolina, OSHA investigates the incident and if the injury was caused by the employer's negligence, they fine the company. The company must also correct the safety violation. Businesses have the option of appealing the decision, which many of them avail. This means that of the $17.5 million fined by OSHA between January 2010 and 2013, around one-third has not been paid since companies have appealed the fine.

In addition to this, the investigative report also discovered that though OSHA has cited thousands of companies for safety violations over the last three years, fines were levied against only 300 companies, leading to a total reduction of $728,000 in fines. According to the Labor Commissioner, fines can be reduced for various reasons, including size of the business and gravity of the violation.

According to the Commissioner, the focus is more on education and training and not on penalties, a system safety experts do not agree with. According to them, the small fine gives them the impression they can just move on without valuing worker safety.

According to official reports, workplace injuries have decreased over the past few years, but attempts to improve worker safety should remain constant. North Carolina workers injured in the workplace may be able to file a workers' compensation claim to recover costs that may enable the injured worker to cover their medical expenses and replace wages lost due to the injury.

Source: ABC11, "I-Team: North Carolina worker safety fines go uncollected'," Steve Daniels, Nov. 14, 2013

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