Far more North Carolina workers are dying on the job than the state is reporting.
The North Carolina Department of Labor reported 53 workplace fatalities in the state in 2011. But if you ask the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that number is almost three times higher, at 148, according to a recent report from the National Council on Occupational Safety and Health.
NCOS executive director Tom O’Connor says the state has every incentive to keep the number as low as possible.
“[The North Carolina Department of Labor is] seriously understating the reality of the problem,” Connor told The Huffington Post. “It’s in their interest to show that actually it’s this very small number of workers that dies on the job now.”
The issue of workplace fatalities has regained attention after an industrial disaster in West, Texas, earlier this month killed 15 and injured hundreds. Regulators missed many potential hazards in the lead up to the plant explosion, an indication that the company and government agencies both could have done more to protect workers.
The North Carolina Department of Labor only reports the workplace deaths that the agency has the authority to investigate, according to Dolores Quesenberry, a spokesperson for the agency. Meanwhile, the BLS report, which comes out months after the state’s report and is compiled with the state's help, includes fatalities that don’t fall under the North Carolina’s jurisdiction -- like transportation and workplace violence-related deaths -- on top of those already tracked by the state.
The state chooses to release the figures from its own survey at the beginning of each year because they are “timely and are fatalities within our jurisdiction," Quesenberry said. “By law, we can’t investigate a transportation fatality, not to mention we don’t even have the staff to do it,” she added.
The number of workplace fatalities in North Carolina has declined significantly over the past 10 years, the NCOS report notes. Still, the organization says the state could do more to prevent future incidents like imposing harsher fines on repeat offenders.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post stated that the North Carolina Department of Labor only tracks workplace fatalities it has the authority to investigate. It only reports fatalities it has the authority to investigate.