Advocates call for better workplace safety oversight
A bell tolled 174 times Friday morning outside the State Capitol to honor each of the people who lost their lives on the job in North Carolina in 2016.Posted — Updated
In addition to remembering those who died, the interfaith service commemorating Workers' Memorial Day offered advocates and family members a chance to call on state leaders to do more to keep people safe in the workplace.
"You know, you trust your little kid – 17, 16 – to these people who are employing them, and they're putting them in situations that aren't really safe," Michelle Rosoff said.
"I know there wasn't [enough oversight]," she said. "It's a fact, there was not. There was some – a lot of – negligence going on."
MaryBe McMillan, president of the state chapter of the AFL-CIO, said Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry doesn't do enough to enforce safety regulations. There are so few state inspectors that it would take 96 years for them to visit every work site in the state just once, McMillan said.
"We have seen under her tenure that she has reduced fines for companies," she said of Berry. "The average fine for a serious violation in North Carolina is $1,500. That's peanuts."
Delores Quesenberry, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Labor, called North Carolina "one of the safest states in which to work," saying the on-the-job injury and illness rates are below the national average.
"Early on in her service, Commissioner Berry determined that the most effective way for her to honor anyone who loses their life in the workplace is to work harder to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future," Quesenberry said in an email. "Though zero injuries and fatalities in the workplace is our goal, North Carolina’s injury and illness rate has steadily declined since 2001 and remains at an all-time low.
State regulators use different statistics on job-related injuries and fatalities than the federal government, which said workplace fatalities in North Carolina jumped 16 percent in 2016.
McMillan said a three-year increase in deaths on the job is proof that workers need better protection.
"Too many of our lawmakers seem to embrace the philosophy of less – less regulation, less enforcement, less fines," she said. "We're out here to demand more – more inspections, more training, more penalties and more respect for people who died on the job.
"Companies need more than a slap on the wrist when someone dies because of their carelessness," she added.
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