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Workplace fatality numbers may not be complete in North Carolina

Although it was reported last year that the number of workplace fatalities had declined in North Carolina, it is possible that not all workplace deaths are accounted for in North Carolina's Department of Labor (DOL) numbers. In fact, according to a newspaper investigation, eighty worker deaths may not have been accounted for. Among those killed and possibly not accounted for were farmers, mechanics, janitors, roofers and painters killed by a workplace hazard. The investigation alleges that some workers die each year in North Carolina in workplace accidents but because of debates over state laws, their deaths are not investigated and, in turn, are not reported.

While in previous years all workplace deaths were reported, now only the deaths that are investigated are reported. North Carolina is among states that run their own health and safety programs. The state notes that all workplace fatalities are reported to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and data can be accessed through the BLS. The federal and state data sometimes differ significantly. Potentially left out of North Carolina's DOL numbers may be self-employed workers, small-farm laborers, owners of unincorporated companies, workers who die in open waters, workers who succumb to workplace injuries some time after they receive them miners and others.

The state's DOL works to keep employees in the state safe by performing greater than 4,000 unannounced health and safety inspections in recent years. In addition, when a worker has died in a workplace accident because of an unsafe condition an employer has failed to remedy, fines can be assigned to employers and improvements to worker safety can be made. In addition to DOL protections, workers have other options, including legal options, which may be available to protect them and their families in the wake of a workplace accident.

It is important for workers, and loved ones, to be familiar with all types of protections that may be available to them following a workplace accident. Depending on the circumstances, protections can include workers' compensation benefits or claims for damages against third parties which is why it is important for workers and their families to be aware of the options available to help them during a difficult time.

Source: The Charlotte Observer, "NC workers' deaths go uncounted," Mandy Locke, April 11, 2015

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