N.C. workplace deaths dropped 40 percent in 2009

On-the-job fatalities in North Carolina declined to a record low of 34 last year, according to the state Department of Labor.

Posted Updated

RALEIGH, N.C. — Accidental workplace fatalities dropped by 40 percent last year, from 57 to 34, according to figures released Tuesday by the state Department of Labor.

“The good news is fewer people died on the job in 2009 than at any other time in our state’s history,” Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry said in a statement. “However, the only acceptable number is zero.”

Manufacturing-related fatalities dropped from nine to eight, while deaths at construction sites went from 17 to 14.

“Our resounding message to employers and employees during this economic downturn has been not to cut corners with safety programs,” Berry said. “They are listening and deserve credit for helping make North Carolina’s workplaces safer.”

Over the last four years, the fatality rate for those in construction jobs has dropped from 9.0 to 6.98 per 100,000 workers.

“We know that construction work was down last year,” Allen McNeely, director of the department's Occupational Safety and Health Division, said in a statement. “To get a true gauge of how employers are doing, we look at the rate (at which) fatalities are occurring, which takes into consideration the fluctuations in the work force.”

Fatalities in the service industry dropped from eight to six, while agriculture, forestry and fishing fatalities dropped from seven to two.

Wake County had the most workplace fatalities with six, followed by Hyde County with four. Mecklenburg, Robeson and Rockingham counties each had two on-the-job deaths. Eighteen counties had one fatality each, and the remaining 77 had no workplace fatalities last year.

Four of the Wake County deaths were the result of a June explosion at the ConAgra Foods Inc. plant in Garner, while all four Hyde County deaths came in an explosion of a truckload of fireworks on July 4.

Despite those two incidents, falls were the leading cause of the work-related deaths last year, officials said. Falls accounted for nine fatalities, while eight people died in explosions. Five workers were crushed by objects, and five were struck by objects. Three workers were electrocuted, and four died in other events.

The latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show private industry has a record-low injury and illness rate in North Carolina, at 3.4 injured workers for every 100 full-time employees in 2008. North Carolina was one of 14 states with an injury and illness rate lower than the national average of 3.9 in 2008.