Number of NC workers killed on the job nearly doubled last year

The number of workers killed on the job in North Carolina nearly doubled last year compared to the year before, according to preliminary data released by the state Department of Labor on Thursday.

Forty-four people died in work-related accidents last year, up from 23 in 2013. It was the highest number of worker deaths since 2011, when 53 died, according to the Labor Department.

All but one of the workers killed last year were men, and all were classified as “laborers” by the Labor Department. Their average age was nearly 44; the youngest was 20, and the oldest was 82.

The construction industry accounted for some of the increase. Nineteen workers were killed at construction sites last year, 12 more than in 2013.

According to the Labor Department, other industry data show that many construction accidents occur within the first 60 to 90 days that a worker is on the job and in some cases on the first day of work.

“To hear that workers are getting injured on the first day or between 60 and 90 days on the job sends a red flag that the workers are not getting the necessary training prior to starting the work,” Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry said in a statement. “Whether the workers are new to the industry or returning after the lull in construction that began in 2007, the workers need training or refresher training before starting the job.”

Berry said the department detected a spike in construction accidents in 2014 and worked with Builders Mutual Insurance Company to create public service announcements about some of the most common hazards on the job. The ads began airing on Univision, the Spanish-language cable television channel, late in 2014 and will continue through March.

Worker deaths in manufacturing increased from 4 in 2013 to 9 last year, while service industry deaths rose from 1 in 2013 to six last year.

Five of the deaths occurred in the Triangle, including a worker struck by an arm of a wheel loader in Chatham County, a worker struck by a tree in Johnston County and three construction workers who fell in separate incidents in Wake County.

Worker safety has improved in the state and nationwide, largely because of state and federal worker safety rules and the requirements of workers’ compensation insurance programs. The number of workplace illnesses and injuries in North Carolina dropped to 2.7 incidents for every 100 full-time workers in 2013, the most recent year available, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s down from 5.7 per 100 workers in 1999.

It’s not clear what impact last year’s increase in worker fatalities will have on the injury and illness rate.