NC workplace fatalities spike in 2010

Posted January 14, 2011 3:28 p.m. EST
Updated January 14, 2011 3:36 p.m. EST

— Forty-eight people died on the job in North Carolina last year, compared with 34 in 2009, according to figures released Friday by the state Department of Labor.

“Any workplace death is a tragedy and of great concern because it affects so many people – the family, co-workers, the community and our department,” Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry said in a statement. “We’ll redouble our efforts and work even harder to prevent these accidents from happening, and we’ll call on employers and employees across the state to recommit themselves to workplace safety and health in 2011.”

The leading cause of the work-related fatalities in 2010 was workers being struck by a vehicle or object, with 16 fatalities, officials said. Fifteen workers died in falls, nine were crushed by objects and four were electrocuted. Four workers died in other fatal events.

“Many of the fatalities involved falls or crushed-by accidents, and these can be avoided by using fall protection and paying close attention to your surroundings,” Allen McNeely, director of the state Occupational Safety and Health Division, said in a statement.

The division issued hazard alerts last year regarding bridge construction, tree care and forklifts after identifying problems in those areas.

Fifteen of the dead workers were in the construction industry, and six each were in manufacturing and service industries.

Officials said there has been speculation that workers worry about their livelihoods in the weak economy, and this distraction may be a factor in fatal accidents.

The state’s injury and illness rate among workers is at an all-time low for private industry, officials said. The rate has steadily declined from 5.3 per 100 full-time workers in 2000 to 3.1 in 2009.

“Although injuries and illnesses are headed in the right direction, the ultimate injury – a fatal accident – is not," Berry said.

The 48 fatal work accidents in 2010 is below the state's five-year average of 53.2 workplace fatalities, officials said.

Mecklenburg County experienced the most fatalities with seven. Nash and Pitt counties were among eight counties with two fatalities. Sixty-six counties had no on-the-job fatalities last year.