Workplace injuries and illnesses drop in North Carolina

sgilman@newsobserver.comDecember 2, 2013 

  • Injury and illness rates for select industries, per 100 workers, in 2012

    • Wood product manufacturing: 5.3

    • Crop production: 4

    • Retail trade: 3.7

    • General construction: 2.8

    • Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing: 1.4

    • Finance and insurance: .4

    Source: N.C. Department of Labor

CORRECTION: Angela Bernardo's name was previously misidentified. Correction made at noon Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013.

RALEIGH -- North Carolina has become a safer place to work, according to recent data from the N.C. Department of Labor.

The number of workplace illnesses and injuries in North Carolina dropped in 2012 to 2.9 incidents for every 100 full-time workers. The rate had been 3.1 the three previous years, and it has declined from 5.7 per 100 workers in 1999.

North Carolina has kept pace with a national decline of workplace injuries and illnesses since 1999, when the national rate was 6.3. The state has remained safer than average; it is one of eight states to see a decline in workplace injury and illness last year, and one of 15 with a lower rate than the national average of 3.4

The improvements in safety are largely the result of state and federal worker safety rules and the requirements of workers’ compensation insurance programs, said Angela Bernardo, a former OSHA inspector who now teaches safety management at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania.

“It’s good business to be safe, and most employers are looking to improve that,” said Bernardo, who wrote her Ph.D. dissertation in 2009 on the national decline of workplace illnesses and injuries. “If they don’t have a good safety program, the workers’ compensation rates are higher.”

Bernardo said that during her 11 years as an OSHA inspector she saw “the good, the bad, and the ugly,” but said that most businesses worked to improve their health and safety programs over time.

“A lot of them tried to sincerely improve, because it made good business sense,” she said.

In North Carolina, greater involvement by the Department of Labor is a big factor in the decline in workplace deaths, illnesses and injuries, department spokeswoman Dolores Quesenberry said.

“The increase in our partnerships in the business community and recognition program has helped foster a safety culture across the state,” Quesenberry said.

The labor department often forges relationships with companies involved with large construction jobs, such as the Raleigh Convention Center. Quesenberry said that $192 million project required 136 workers and 133 contractors and was remarkably safe.

“When that project wrapped up in 2008, there was not a single major injury or fatality in the site,” she said. “We were in continual contact with site management regarding site safety and health.”

Deaths in North Carolina workplaces were also down last year. Workplace fatalities dropped 34 percent from 53 deaths in 2011 to 35 in 2012, according to data released in January. The number rose in 2008, 2010 and 2011, but has dropped overall since 2005 when 68 people died in work-related incidents.

Gilman: 919-829-8955

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