NC DOL Celebrates Drop in North Carolina Workplace Fatalities: Are We Seeing a Good Trend or Just a Statistical Blip?

January 24, 2013, by Michael A. DeMayo

The North Carolina Department of Labor just released some exciting stats: workplace fatalities in North Carolina plummeted by 34% in 2012.

53 people died in NC workplace accidents in 2011; only 35 workers died on the job in 2012. The Occupational Safety & Health Division of the Labor Department tried to drive this number down by working proactively with companies in hazardous industries to stop deaths related to heat stress, struck-bys, forklifts, and firefighter accidents.

The director of the OSH Division, Allen McNeely, said that “we have increased our reach to employers and employees with hazard alerts, industry guides and posters, as well as focused training.”

More good news: the injury/illness rate for North Carolina businesses remains low. Only 3 out of every 100 full time employers fall seriously ill or sick at work. Most of these injuries/illnesses cluster in just a few industries, including construction, agriculture, fishing, and manufacturing. Common causes of workplace death in North Carolina include electrocution, falls, getting caught in between objects, and getting struck by objects.

A decrease of 34% should be celebrated, and hats off to OSH for taking workplace safety issues do doggedly. As we’ve advocating for years on this North Carolina workers’ compensation blog, all the stakeholders in our system — healthcare providers, employers, employees, law firms, insurance companies, government workers, the lay public — need to work together to come up with solutions and to share knowledge. These numbers suggest that we’re, in some sense, moving in the right direction.

Nevertheless, we need to be careful to avoid celebrating prematurely.

A drop of 34% in the fatality rate sounds great. But 35 deaths is still 35 deaths, and we would ideally like that number to drop down to zero. Furthermore, we could just be witnessing statistical noise. Yes, the OSH division may have done good work. But did the work cause this fluctuation, or did the statistics just fluctuate due to the random nature of complex systems?

Here’s a positive sign: the injury/illness rate has stayed super low — around 3.1 — for three years in a row. This indicates that we may be (potentially!) seeing a real trend. But we need to proceed with caution to avoid over interpreting the statistics.

If you or a family member was recently hurt in a North Carolina workplace accident, get in touch with the DeMayo Law team today to understand what you can do to shield your rights and get the maximum benefits available to you under the law.