4 Common Causes of Workplace Deaths in NC

Workers should be able to expect a safe working environment. Yet every day, workers across North Carolina are seriously injured or even killed on the job. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2021, there were 179 fatal work injuries in North Carolina. This was down from the previous year. Nationwide, fatal work injuries were up nearly 9% from the year before.

If you were hurt at work or lost a loved one, call us today at 1-866-900-7078. We can help and the case evaluation is free.


What Are the Top Jobs That Lead to Death?

Some of the deadliest occupations identified by one report were:

  • Fisherman
  • Logger
  • Pilot
  • Sanitation worker
  • Roofer
  • Iron worker
  • Farmer/Rancher
  • Trucker
  • Electrical power line worker
  • Taxi driver

The single hardest-hit industry in North Carolina in terms of workplace fatalities was private construction, with 39.

What Are Workplace Death Trends Over Time in North Carolina?

In 2020, North Carolina had its deadliest year for workplace fatalities in at least a decade. Nearly 50 percent of all workplace fatalities in North Carolina have been found to be caused by one of two things: either a transportation incident or a slip/trip/fall. Transportation incidents were also the biggest cause, nationally-speaking.

Workers in Peril

The North Carolina Department of Labor previously identified the following four occupational hazards that cause a great many work-related deaths in North Carolina.

#1: Falls from Elevation

Electricians, construction workers, firefighters – anyone whose job involves using a ladder or working at great heights – can be susceptible to deadly falls. Many are preventable. One worker in Carteret was not secured onto the roof when he bent over, lost his balance, and fell 50 feet below onto concrete. Other falls are just very unlucky. One victim from Person County fell through a tin roof and landed on a vertical rod protruding from a table.

How to Avoid Dying at Work from a Fall

The Centers for Disease Control recommends keeping work spaces free of clutter that could trip someone and cause a fall, making sure edges are protected, and checking all ladders or work surfaces for stability and proper positioning before applying weight.

Have You Been Hurt at Work?

Safety is everyone’s responsibility. Unfortunately, when the U.S. Labor Department audited North Carolina in 2010, they found that the state “downplayed serious safety problems, issued weak fines to violators, and failed to properly handle whistleblower complaints,” according to the Charlotte Observer.

If you’ve lost a loved one in an at-work accident, please contact us immediately for some answers.

#2: Struck-By Events

According to the North Carolina Department of Labor, the largest number of workplace deaths in the state were caused by “struck-by” incidents. Although the Department of Labor does not count car accidents among their work fatality numbers (such as a truck driver who dies in a crash), they do count when a vehicle strikes someone outside of a vehicle – such as someone working on a highway construction site. Other struck-by events can include those who were killed by something falling on them or being hit by a type of machinery.

How to Avoid Dying at Work from a Struck-By Event

In an interview with WRAL-TV, Division of Occupational Safety and Health Division Director Allen McNeely said, “All of us – safety professionals, employers, and employees – must do better in identifying struck-by hazards…Staying vigilant around heavy machinery and construction material is critical.”

In recent years, the N.C. Department of Labor has increased its efforts to improve safety and to prevent workplace accidents from happening. The department’s Occupational Safety and Health Division has created partnerships with businesses in some of the most hazardous industries to improve safety measures. Outreach efforts have included posters in the workplace and focused training sessions.

#3: Caught in or Between Objects or Machinery

This category traditionally includes being caught in agricultural or manufacturing machinery, but may also include trench or excavation collapses and cave-ins. In fact, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 90% of their safety citations involve excavations. Even something as seemingly simple as laying pipework near a roadway can turn deadly in a split second, as it did for one Rocky Mount worker who was laying pipe near a pond when the ground collapsed, trapping and killing him.

In another incident, ABC Eyewitness News in Gastonia County reported on the tragedy of a 19-year-old young man who suffered an unthinkable death when he was pulled into a woodcutter. It was his first day on the job. The owner of the business was so distraught he suffered a heart attack.

How to Avoid Dying at Work from Excavations or Machinery

Cave-ins are the most deadly of any type of excavation-type job. Again, safety and precautions are emphasized. Excavators are recommended to have protective systems in place and inspect trenches every day. Sadly, the Rocky Mount worker was unprotected.

For other kinds of caught-in accidents, it is imperative to be diligent about safety training. Be mindful of things like loose clothing and hair that could get caught in a machine. When around machinery, whether conducting maintenance or when it’s not in use, make sure it is turned off and any wheels are blocked.

#4: Electrocutions

While electrocutions can happen anywhere an electrical current is tampered with, those that prove fatal often involve power lines. Crane operators and people working on scaffolds near power lines must be especially careful.

How to Avoid Dying at Work from Electrocution

In general, assume all lines are energized unless verified otherwise. You should also keep yourself and all equipment at a safe distance, and use a spotter and warning devices to avoid getting too close.

What Are the Most Dangerous Counties in North Carolina for Workplace Deaths?

The North Carolina Department of Labor compiles statistics of workplace fatalities by county. However, their figures exclude certain things outside their jurisdictional authority. This includes traffic accidents – which account for nearly half of all work-related deaths.

According to the North Carolina Department of Labor, 66 of North Carolina’s 100 counties experienced workplace-related fatalities in 2022, with 27 counties experiencing only one fatality.

Top 3 Counties for Workplace-Related Fatalities (2022):

  1. Durham County: 6
  2. Johnston County: 5 (tied)
  3. Wake County: 5 (tied)

Why the Cities That See the Most Injuries Don’t Always See the Most Death

Researchers on one study used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and compared reported incidents of workplace fatalities and worker deaths among the different states. The researchers discovered that in states where a high number of workplace injuries were reported, the number of workplace deaths was lower. The inverse was also true: higher fatality numbers were linked with lower injury numbers.

At first glance, this data made little sense. After all, it seems reasonable to assume that if there are more workers getting injured, the number of fatalities would also be greater.

However, a closer look revealed a probable cause for the odd relationship. In states where there are better worker protection laws and more generous benefits for injured workers, workers are more likely to report injuries. On the other hand, in states where there are poorer worker protection laws and where workers’ comp benefits are less generous, injuries may not be reported as frequently and workplaces, on the whole, may be much less safe.

When a worker reports an injury, it increases the count of workplace injuries in the state, but it also gives employers a chance to correct safety problems that led to the incident before they cause fatalities. On the other hand, if a worker doesn’t report injuries sustained, employers and regulators aren’t alerted to correct safety violations before a fatal accident occurs – thus leading to more workplace deaths.

Are Temporary Workers More Vulnerable to Fatalities on the Job?

The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health cites a report by the Labor Relations and Research Center at the University of Massachusetts indicating that 90% percent of U.S. businesses utilize temporary labor.

The report claims that temps sometimes receive insufficient training or are inexperienced in protecting themselves on the jobsite. Yet they are reluctant to ask employers for help because they fear they could be replaced. Moreover, temporary workers tend to be younger, less educated, and disproportionally consist of minority workers, many of whom might be immigrant workers.

Why Are Temps at Higher Risk for Job Injuries and Fatalities?

“There’s little incentive for host employers to rigorously train and supervise temp workers because staffing agencies carry their [workers’] comp insurance. If an agency has a high number of injuries within its workforce, they – not the host employer – are penalized with higher premiums,” a recent Center for Public Integrity feature on the plight of temporary workers reported.

Further, there’s little monetary accountability. The Occupational Safety and Health Act limits negligent employers to a maximum fine of $7,000 per safety violation deemed “serious” – even if the violations cause death.

What to Do If a Loved One Dies at Work

If you’ve lost someone, you have our deepest sympathies. You’re the reason we do the work that we do. We think these counseling and legal resources might be of some help in your time of grief.

You should know there are many workers’ compensation benefits surviving family members may qualify for. But don’t rely on your loved one’s employer or workers’ comp insurance company to make sure you get everything you may be entitled to.

If a NC worker is killed while on the job, or as a result of a job, his or her family may be eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits. These could include:

  • Up to 500 weeks of compensation
  • $10,000 in funeral expenses
  • Reimbursement of medical expenses

Regrettably, even in a time of loss, we’ve seen some insurance companies turn their backs – or try to. But you’re not alone. We’re here to help.

NC Workers’ Comp Lawyers Offer Free Case Evaluation

If a loved one has died at work, we are ready to help you. Our experienced team is dedicated to fighting for justice and trying to get surviving family members the benefits they may deserve. Let one of our workers’ comp attorneys – many of whom are North Carolina State Bar Board Certified Specialists in Workers’ Compensation Law – fight for you.

We are here to listen to what you are going through and see if we can help get you the answers you need. Contact us or call 1-866-900-7078 for a free case evaluation.

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About the Author

Ryan Bliss is a workers’ compensation attorney in North Carolina and co-leader of the Workers’ Compensation Department at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin. Ryan is one of fewer than 200 North Carolina State Bar Board Certified Specialists in Workers’ Compensation Law.a He was named a “Rising Star”b by Super Lawyers Magazine in 2018 and wrote an article called “Workers’ Compensation for the Undocumented Worker” for Trial Briefs Magazine in January 2018.

aNumbers provided by NC State Bar as of 2/21.

bFor more information regarding standards of inclusion, please visit www.superlawyers.com.