Politics & Government

NC Labor Department: Worker deaths declined in 2015

A broken piece of collapsed scaffolding mast (right) that held a work platform that fell and killed three workers and seriously injured another at the Charter Square project in downtown Raleigh last March. A second, intact mast is at left. The elevator-like platforms climb up and down the individual masts.
A broken piece of collapsed scaffolding mast (right) that held a work platform that fell and killed three workers and seriously injured another at the Charter Square project in downtown Raleigh last March. A second, intact mast is at left. The elevator-like platforms climb up and down the individual masts. hlynch@newsobserver.com

The state Department of Labor says 41 people died last year in workplace accidents in industries that it regulates, down from 45 the year before, according to preliminary figures released late last week.

Seven of the workers died in Wake County, including three when a scaffolding collapsed on a downtown Raleigh office building last March. All of the workers killed last year were men, and all were classified as laborers. They ranged in age from 19 to 65.

The report does not include workers killed on the job in traffic accidents or homicides, nor does it include self-employed workers or those killed on small farms and at federal facilities not regulated by the state Labor Department. In 2014, that left out an additional 83 workers, the majority killed on the job in the state that year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which compiles data on all worker deaths.

Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry says there are several reasons her department tracks only deaths at workplaces it regulates. For starters, the federal data take about nine months longer to generate and “are out of date when we receive them,” Berry said in a statement. The state’s timelier figures allow regulators to look for patterns and trends that the Labor Department can address through education and training, Berry said.

Construction continued to be the most hazardous industry in the state, accounting for 12 worker deaths in 2015. That was down from 19 the year before, a spike that prompted the department to work with the Builders Mutual Insurance Company to produce public service announcements about some of the most common hazards on the job.

All of the construction deaths were in commercial contracting, including the workers killed at Charter Square, an 11-story office building completed in downtown Raleigh last year.

All of the construction deaths were in commercial contracting, including the workers killed at Charter Square, an 11-story office building completed in downtown Raleigh last year. Anderson Antones de Almeida, 33, and Jose Erasmo Hernandez, 41, of Durham, and Jose Luis Lopez-Ramirez, 33, of Clinton, were killed when the lift system holding up the scaffolding they were standing on collapsed. A fourth worker was seriously injured.

The state Labor Department found “serious” violations of safety regulations and issued $160,300 in fines to three companies involved in the project – Associated Scaffolding Company Inc., Jannawall Inc. and Juba Aluminum Products Co.

Of the other workers killed in Wake last year, two fell from trees, a third was struck by a granite slab and the fourth was a state worker who was hit when an aerial lift fell at the State Archives building in downtown Raleigh.

Mecklenburg, Onslow and Wayne counties each had three worker deaths. The only other death in the Triangle was in Durham, where a worker for a drywall company was hit by a saw blade.

Worker safety has improved over the years in North Carolina and nationwide, largely because of state and federal worker safety rules and the requirements of workers’ compensation insurance programs.

The injury and illness rate for private employers remained at 2.7 incidents for every 100 full-time workers in 2014, 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.

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling

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