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The Top 4 Ways People Die at Work in North Carolina (and How to Avoid Them)

More people died at work this past year than in any of the past four years. It’s a sad, but true fact.

If you’ve lost a loved one in an at-work accident, please click here to talk to someone immediately who can help advocate for you.

According to the North Carolina Department of Labor, workplace fatalities in 2016 (federal fiscal year) are higher than they’ve been since 2012. A total of 48 people lost their lives, primarily in construction and manufacturing.

The 4 Most Common Reasons People Die at Work (in NC)

In an effort to curb workplace deaths, the North Carolina Department of Labor identified the following four accident categories that caused the most work-related deaths (89%) in North Carolina from 2009 – 2015. These were in large part construction-type jobs.

  1. Falls From Elevations
    Nearly half of all these “Big 4” fatalities were falls. 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. A 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. 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.
  2. Struck-By Events
    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. More than a third of the at-work deaths in North Carolina in 2016 were struck-by events, which are largely preventable.
    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.”
  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 in August when the ground collapsed, trapping, and killing him.The agency says that cave-ins are the most deadly of any type of excavation-type job. Again, safety and precautions are emphasized. They recommend having protective systems in place and inspecting 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. 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 wood cutter. It was his first day on the job. The owner of the business was so distraught he suffered a heart attack. Safety is everyone’s responsibility. 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. In general, assume all lines are energized unless verified otherwise, keep yourself and all equipment at a safe distance, and use a spotter and warning devices to avoid getting too close.

Temporary Workers Are Most 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.

That fine amounts to little more than a finger wagging for many employers.

If a Loved One Died at Work

No matter how careful we try to be, sometimes accidents happen. If you’ve lost someone, you have our deepest sympathies. You’re the reason we do the work that we do. Click here for helpful resources that we believe 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.

Regrettably, even in a time of loss, we’ve seen insurance companies turn their backs – or try to.

NC Workers’ Comp Lawyers Offer FREE Case Evaluation

If someone died at work we are here to try to advocate for 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 – seven of whom are North Carolina Board Certified Specialists in Workers’ Compensation Law – evaluate your situation for free.

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.