You are here

North Carolina Workers: Dying For a Job

­ ­NORTH CAROLINA WORKERS: DYING FOR A JOB

 

A Report of NC Worker Fatalities in 2011

 

 

In Honor of Workers’ Memorial Day

April 28, 2012

 

 

  • National Council on Occupational Safety and Health
  • NC Workers Memorial Day Committee
  • Triangle Jobs with Justice Organizing Committee

 


 

Dedication


This report is dedicated to the working men and woman in North Carolina who were killed on the job in 2011.   This includes the 83 workers whose deaths were documented and at least 18 service people who lost their lives while working in the military. Today we read their names in order to honor and remember them.   We also join with their families and others to call for rigorous enforcement of workplace health and safety regulations in NC. One worker death is too many.  

 


Report Authors

This report was written by:

  • Tom O” Connor, National Council on Occupational Safety and Health (“National COSH”)
  • Tobi Lippin, New Perspectives Consulting Group
  • Peter Kostin, Volunteer  

 

Cover design: Jillian Johnson, NC Jobs with Justice Organizing Committee

 


About the Sponsoring Organization

The National Council on Occupational Safety and Health (“National COSH”) is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving workplace safety and health conditions for all.   The organization promotes this mission through education, training, and policy advocacy.   The National COSH is also the umbrella organization of the National COSH Network, a network of 20 local and statewide Coalitions on Occupational Safety and Health around the country. The National COSH is based in Raleigh, NC. For more information, see www.coshnetwork.org.

 


 

­


 

 

 

NORTH CAROLINA WORKERS: DYING FOR A JOB

A Report of NC Worker Fatalities in 2011

April 28, 2012

 

 

Table of Contents

 

 

 

Topic

Page

Executive Summary

1

 

In Memoriam

 

2

 

NC 2011 Worker Fatalities

 

5

 

What We Know About Those Who Died

 

5

 

Industry Sectors

 

7

 

What Caused these Fatalities

 

11

 

NC OSHA Investigations, Violations and Penalties in Occupational Fatality Cases

 

 

12

 

What Needs to be Done to make NC Workplaces Safer

 

15

 

Note on Sources and Methods

 

18

 


Executive Summary

Despite some progress in combating unsafe working conditions, death and injury in NC workplaces continues to be far too common.   Eighty-three NC residents died due to work-related injuries in 2011 (and likely many more from occupational illnesses.) Many of these deaths were due to highly preventable causes such as falls, machinery incidents, and heat stress.

The NC Department of Labor’s report of occupational fatalities greatly understates the true extent of the problem: The state DOL reported in January, 2012, that a total of 53 work-related deaths occurred in the state in 2011. This number, which includes only those cases that the state OSHA program investigated, seriously understates the true extent of the problem. Our analysis found that a minimum of 83 work-related fatalities occurred in NC in 2011. It is possible that this number is greater because some fatalities may not have been reported in news outlets.

Fines are far too low to act as an effective deterrent to unsafe working conditions: Our analysis of 2011 inspection data found that in fatality cases for which NC OSHA cited the employer for at least one violation of an OSHA standard, the median fine was only $3,250. The Federal Occupational Safety and Health Act limits maximum fines to a low level—$7,000 for a serious violation—but in most cases, NC OSHA fines employers less than half of  this, even when a fatality occurs.

Workers of all ages are affected by job hazards, but young workers are particularly vulnerable.  Four people aged 21 or under died on the job in NC in 2011. Two of these young men were working in construction-related jobs that were clearly hazardous, including one who worked on a communications tower.

Inadequate screening systems are in place to ensure that contractors bidding on public works projects provide safe working conditions for their employees: In at least two cases, involving three fatalities, workers were employed by contractors on state and local public works projects. One of these contractors, Triangle Grading and Paving, was awarded a public works contract because it was the lowest bidder, despite a long history of serious OSHA violations and having been assessed over $200,000 in OSHA fines for dozens of serious violations including several related to a previous worker fatality.  

Latino workers are dying on the job in disproportionate numbers.   Latinos are only seven percent of the state’s population, but accounted for 30 percent of fatal occupational injuries in 2011 for which race/ethnicity is known . Most of these deaths occurred in the construction and agricultural industries.  

 

In Memoriam

 

Following are the names of individuals in North Carolina who died from work-related causes in 2011.   The towns and cities listed below are in some cases the individual’s city of residence and in some cases where the workers were injured. The majority of workers who died from occupational disease are not listed- no database collects their names. We estimate that for every worker who dies from an acute, traumatic on-the-job injury, ten more die from occupational diseases. We will never know most of their names and faces, but we honor them all. We also include a list of servicemen and women from North Carolina who lost their lives in 2011.

                                                                                   



North Carolina Workers Killed on the Job in 2011

Abdul Alwarrak                                                                     47                       Rocky Mount                                           shot to death

Jay Ammeri                                                                                         36                       Raleigh                                                                       shot to death

Mario Andres Avena                                               25                       Rockingham County             crushed under farm tractor

Frank Birdsong                                                                     52                       Craven County                                     toxic substance

Eric Black                                                                                               31                       Wake Forest                                               fall from scissors lift

Jeffrey Bowen                                                                           37                       Asheville                                                                 smoke inhalation/building fire

Billy Brady, Jr.                                                                           44                       Kings Mountain                                   semi-truck crash

Vonnie Lee Bullard                                                       53                       Raleigh                                                                       struck by structural steel

Luis Castaneda Gomez                                       34                       Durham                                                                     confined space asphyxiation

Amelia Chavez                                                                           47                       Magnolia                                                                 heat stress

David Clark                                                                                         51                       Chocowinity                                             struck in head by pipe

Lonnie Collins                                                                           50                       Shannon                                                                   severed leg in feed mill machine

Elisier Colonroche                                                         55                       Sanford                                                                       injured in police training demo, Michael Douglas Cook                                       42                     Guilford County                               fall from scaffold

Daniel Corey                                                                                   54                       Grenville                                                                 crushed under fallen tree

Buenaventura Cortes  Martinez                                 44                     Columbus County                         crushed by conveyor

Michael Costa                                                                             42                       Camden                                                                       crushed under machine

John Crowe                                                                                         45                       Snow Hill                                                               hit in head by machine

José de la Cruz                                                                           30                       Monroe                                                                       fall from roof

David Dawson III                                                               21                       Seven Springs                                         vehicle crash in line of duty

Donald Deaver                                                                         45                       Wayne County                                     fall from elevated bucket lift

Andrew “Butch” Evans                                   46                       Gastonia                                                                   machine-related incident

Dennis Foy                                                                                           62                       Jones County                                               struck by cotton bales

Franklin Freeman                                                             72                       Kernersville                                                 fall from elevation

Dalton Eugene Godair                                         74                       China Grove                                                   fall from elevation

Ronnie Greer                                                                               65                       Valdese                                                                       vehicle crash

Sonia Gregory                                                                           41                       Andrews                                                                 crushed by trenching machine

Reginald Van Gurley                                               54                       Coats                                                                               heat stress

Carl Gwynn                                                                                         52                       Jacksonville                                                   run over by dump truck

Ralph Henson                                                                             70                       Lake Junaluska                                     fell down stairs

Alberto Hernandez                                                       51                       Durham                                                                     struck by tree branch

Cedric Hooper                                                                         43                       Charlotte                                                               vehicle crash

Thomas Jacobs                                                                       61                       Sanford                                                                       fall from roof  

Clay Johnson                                                                                 38                       Statesville                                                           vehicle crash

Richard Jones                                                                             49                       Kinston                                                                       shot by passenger

Warren Lewis                                                                                                               Fayetteville                                                     shot serving warrant

Jack Luper                                                                                               57                       Fayetteville                                                     struck by vehicle in work zone

Arturo Martinez                                                                   25                       Pinehurst,                                                         fall from ladder

Hilario   Martinez                                                                 44                       Raleigh,                                                                     struck by tree  

Jesus Martinez Benitez                                     32                       Durham                                                                     confined space asphyxiation

Gary Merrington                                                                 47                       West Jefferson,                                     fall from elevation

Cecil Millis                                                                                             69                       Laurinburg                                                       electrocuted

Jose Muniz-Arriaga                                                       61                       Ashe County                                               fall from trailer

Jordan Nanney                                                                         20                     Cumberland County               struck by vehicle

Marvin Near                                                                                   61                       Concord                                                                   fall from truck

Mark Neigum                                                                               61                       Wake County                                             fall down stairs

Johnny Norton                                                                                                           Hot Springs                                                     heart attack (firefighter)

Christopher Parker                                                   21                       Whitakers                                                           fall from roof

David Payton                                                                               51                       Greenville                                                           vehicle incident

Rochelle Pender                                                                     71                     Wilson                                                                         accidentally struck by co-worker

Patrick Pendry                                                                       24                       Wake County                                             struck by granite slabs

Efrain Juan Ramirez                                                   52                       Spring Hope                                                   died in fire

Jose Ramirez                                                                                 46                       Charlotte                                                               fall from elevation

Mark Raper                                                                                         49                       Lucama                                                                       fall from bucket truck

Chris Reese                                                                                         24                       Etowah                                                                                                         caught in shear press

Albert Reeves                                                                             57                       Fayetteville                                                     fall from roof

Wuilson Reyes                                                                         42                       Charlotte                                                               shot in robbery

Ricardo Rios Telles                                                     34                       Louisburg                                                           crushed between excavator & pipe

Cory Rogers                                                                                 24                       New Hanover County    explosion

Hugo Alberto Sanchez                                       28                       Charlotte                                                               heat stress

Clifton Sebastian                                                                   44                       Hickory                                                                     vehicle crash

Dalton Earl Smith                                                               60                       Rocky Mount                                             struck by tractor

Rafig Soufan                                                                                     47                       Rocky Mount                                             shot in robbery

Vasyl Sovyak                                                                               46                       Cary                                                                                     vehicle incident

Clarence Stroup                                                                                                         Lincolnton                                                         struck by vehicle while trimming grass

Keith Stull                                                                                               18                       Pinnacle                                                                     fall from communications tower

Steven Taylor                                                                                                                 Wingate                                                                     struck by lightning

George Taylor                                                                           61                       Kernersville                                                 vehicle incident

Felinda Thompson                                                         48                       Mooresville                                                   trapped under lawn mower

Frederick Thornton                                               50                       Charlotte                                                               struck by detonation

Charles Ulery Jr.                                                                     37                       Beech Mountain                                 struck by truck

Stephen Vannais                                                                   58                       Parkton                                                                     plane crash

Greg Wallace                                                                                 55                       Charlotte                                                               struck by tire rim spacer

Jerry Whitman                                                                         49                       Hickory                                                                     pinned between truck & loading dock

Adam Williams                                                             32                       Winston-Salem                                                                       stabbed to death

Russell Willingham                                         28                       Salem Lake                                                         vehicle crash

Herman Wilson,                                                         62                       Winston-Salem                                                                       toxic fumes in confined space

Richard Thomas Yoost                         35                       Rock Hill, SC                                                 struck by door

Unidentified white male                     51                       Wake County                                             fall from tanker truck

Unidentified white male                     43                       Wake County                                             fall from attic to roof

Unidentified construction worker           Charlotte                                                               fall from ladder

Unidentified construction worker           Winston-Salem                                                                       fall

Unidentified Hispanic Male         43                       Henderson County                   heat stress

 

 

North Carolina Residents Killed in Military Service in 2011

 

(Partial List)

 

Jamal Bowers                                                                     41                       Raleigh

Shawn Charles                                                               40                       Hickory

Daniel Elliott                                                                         21                       Youngsville

Christopher Campbell                               36                       Jacksonville

Michael Dutcher                                                         22                       Asheville

David Hickman                                                               23                       Greensboro

Patrick Lay II                                                                     21                       Fletcher

Christopher Levy                                                   21                       Ramseur

Leon Lucas                                                                                 32                       Wilson

Travis Nelson                                                                     19                       Pace

Christopher Newman                                 26                       Shelby

Nicholas O” Brien                                                         21                       Stanley

Ergin Osman                                                                           35                       Jacksonville

Calvin Pereda                                                                       21                       Fayetteville

Colby Lee Richmond                                       28                       Providence

Jeffrey Sherer                                                                       29                       Four Oaks

Amy Sinkler                                                                             23                       Chadbourne

Terry Varnadore II                                           29                       Hendersonville

 

 

 

 

NORTH CAROLINA 2011 WORKER FATALITIES

 

In total 83workers died on the job due to work-related causes in NC in 2011.  

NC OSHA failed to count 30 worker fatalities in their report to the public.   NC OSHA’s official tally of worker deaths totaled 53.    NC OSHA’s official report to the public of work-related deaths fails to count the many fatalities due to vehicle accidents and workplace violence, as well as fatalities suffered by the self-employed, thus seriously understating the extent of the problem of work-related deaths.

 

What We Know About Those Who Died  

 

Gender

The overwhelming majority of the workers who died on the job in 2011 were men. Of the 81 fatalities for which gender is known, 78 were men and 3 were women.

 

Latinos Were Killed on the Job in Disproportionate Numbers in Relation to Their Presence in the NC Workforce

For the last 15 years, Hispanic workers have played an increasingly important role in some of North Carolina’s most hazardous industries, particularly construction and agriculture. Sadly, these workers continue to die at a rate far out of proportion with their presence in the state’s population, as noted in Table 1 below. While making up only seven percent of the state’s population, Hispanics accounted for 30 percent of the fatal occupational injuries for which the race and ethnicity of the worker were known (See Table 1 below).  

 

It appears that employers did not provide adequate training or protective equipment in a number of instances of worker fatalities last year among these vulnerable workers, as illustrated in the case of two workers who died of asphyxiation in a manhole in Durham (see pg. 9).

 

Of the 17 Hispanic workers who died on the job in NC in 2011, 16 worked in either the construction or agriculture industries.

 


 

Table 1. Race / Ethnicity of NC 2011 Workplace Fatalities

Race/Ethnicity

Number Fatalities

% Fatalities

% of NC  Population

White (non-Hispanic)

33

58

66

Black (non-Hispanic)

6

10

21

Hispanic

17

30

7

Other

 

1

2

5

Percents may not add up to 100 due to rounding

n=57   Missing=26

 

All Ages Affected but Young Workers Particularly Vulnerable

Workplace safety advocates often note that young workers, due to inexperience on the job and a reluctance to speak up for their own safety, are particularly vulnerable to job hazards. For this reason, young workers under age 18 are restricted from certain hazardous occupations under federal and NC employment law.

Young workers in the 18 to 21 age range are relatively new to the workforce and are also at high risk when working in potentially dangerous jobs. This fact was unfortunately demonstrated in our state last year as a total of four young people, aged 21 or under, died on the job. Among these was an 18 year old working in a highly hazardous occupation, whose story is below.

Also of note in our list of 2011 fatalities is that older workers are also at risk. Six of the fatalities were workers aged 65 and older.   In the current economic recession many older workers may remain in the workforce for longer and others may return to the workforce after leaving it.  

 Work on communications towers, rising hundreds of feet in the air, is one of the country’s most dangerous occupations. According to a North Carolina OSHA factsheet, the industry has a fatality rate 30 times that of the average industry rate .   Keith Stull was 18 years old when he fell 50 feet to his death from a tower in Hollister, NC.   Keith’s employer, Sink Tower Erection Co., was cited by NC OSHA with three violations, two of them serious. The fines totaled $4,500.   Keith was a wrestler and football player in high school and loved skateboarding.

 

 

 

 

Industry Sectors

 

Fatal injuries in NC in 2011 occurred in all sectors of the economy.   Construction continues to be a leading source of workplace deaths in NC, with 20 fatalities, despite the slow economy.

However, 43% of the 2011 fatalities occurred in sectors of the economy that are traditionally considered to be less hazardous—government, retail trade, services, and other. In fact, five times as many workers died on the job in government and retail trade jobs than in manufacturing, once the mainstay of NC’s economy. In 2011, the manufacturing sector accounted for only 5% of total NC worker fatalities.   See Table 2, below.  

Table 2.  Employment Sectors of NC 2011 Workplace Fatalities

Sector

Number of Fatalities

% of Fatalities

% of NC Employment

Construction

20

24

4

Public Sector

12

14

18

Transportation

12

14

3

Agriculture/

Forestry

11

13

1*

Retail Trade

9

11

12

Manufacturing

4

5

11

Services/Other

15

18

51

Percents may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

n=83

*Likely an underestimate–estimating employment in agriculture is notoriously difficult, often undercounting migrant and temporary workers.

 

Special Focus

  1. 1.       Construction in NC Still a Dangerous Business: Construction occupations

have long been among the most dangerous jobs, both in NC and nationally. Despite a major focus on the industry by NC OSHA over the years, construction workers continue to die on the job at high rates. While only about four percent of NC employees work in construction, the industry accounted for nearly one-quarter of total fatalities in NC in 2011. If we eliminate those cases related to motor vehicle accidents and workplace violence, the proportion climbs to one-third of all fatalities.

Construction workers died on the job due to a variety of causes, most notably falls from elevation.   (These include falls from roofs, ladders, scaffolds, etc.)   See Table 3, below.

Table 3.   Causes of Construction Industry Fatalities, NC, 2011

Cause

Number

Falls from Elevation

10

Toxic Substances/Confined Space

3

Struck/Crushed by Machinery

2

Heat Stress

2

Struck by Other

2

Electrocution

1

n=20

  1. 2.       Agricultural Workers Continue to Face High Hazards: Nationally,

agricultural work has always been at or near the top in terms of the most hazardous occupations. This has continued to be the case in NC, where 13% of 2011 fatalities occurred on farms. The agricultural workforce is largely made up of low-wage, minority workers, many of them immigrants. In fact, eight of eleven of the victims of workplace fatalities in agriculture were minorities.

Farm and forestry workers died due to a variety of causes, with no single major cause. Heat stress, machinery hazards, and other causes all contributed to the high death rate.

  1. 3.       Public Sector Workers Face High Fatality Risk:   Public sector jobs at the

 state, county, and local level can be equally—or even more—hazardous than jobs in the industry sectors traditionally recognized as hazardous, such as construction, agriculture, and manufacturing. In 2011, 14 percent of the state’s workplace deaths were suffered by government employees—tying with transportation for the sector with the second highest number of fatalities.      Public employees carry out a vast array of functions, many of which—like law enforcement, firefighting, and road repair, can be highly hazardous, as reflected in the high death toll among this group.

Jack Luper had been working for the City of Fayetteville for 32 years on the day he went to work supervising a crew that was repairing a crack in the road on Joyce Boulevard. The crew set out road cones to establish a clear work zone and got to work.   At 7:30 in the morning, a car came careening into the work zone, failing to change lanes in time, and struck Mr. Luper and his co-worker Bradley Robbins.   The two workers were rushed by ambulance to Washington Regional Medical Center but doctors were unable to save Mr. Luper’s life. The driver of the vehicle was charged with driving while intoxicated and negligent homicide.   The City of Fayetteville has since designated the section of Joyce Boulevard where the incident occurred “Honorary Jack Luper Boulevard” in memory of the long-time city employee.

                                                                                                     

Jack Luper, killed by a driver on a road

repair job in Fayetteville

  1. 4.       The State DOT safety screening process fails to screen out contractors with

poor safety records: The State Department of Transportation has a safety screening process that purportedly functions to screen out bidders which have inadequate safety records. Triangle Grading and Paving was awarded a state contract for the job that resulted in two workers dying of asphyxiation inside of a manhole in a preventable confined space incident.     When they bid on the job they received a safety score of 99 out of 100 despite their record of dozens of serious OSHA violations and a previous worker fatality in North Carolina.   Following the tragedy, NC OSHA cited the contractor for failure to conduct atmospheric testing of the manhole, failure to provide adequate respiratory protection, and failure to ensure that appropriate retrieval and rescue equipment was available.

 

Triangle Grading and Paving had been awarded this Durham County public works contract because they submitted the lowest bid. A subsequent investigation found that the company had racked up over 40 serious OSHA violations carrying fines of $217,000.

 

This case brings into sharp focus the problem of awarding public works contracts solely on the basis of the lowest bid. An analysis, of state bidding records by NBC-17 TV, found that the lowest bidder generally has the highest numbers of previous OSHA violations.   The investigation also found that officials in both Raleigh and Durham fail to check state or federal safety records of companies as part of the bidding process.

Triangle Grading and Paving employee Luis Castaneda Gomez told his wife that he feared for his life on his construction job. “Luis  didn’t want to work for the company….He would say they would force  him  to do stuff that was dangerous,” his wife told a reporter. But he couldn’tfind any other jobs in the slow economy. Sadly, the 34 year old construction worker’s worst fears came to pass. He and a co-worker, Jesus Martinez Benitez, were sent down into a manhole on the site of a road construction project in Durham. The men had not been given oxygen detectors nor equipment that is required for work in confined spaces. Both men died from asphyxiation in the oxygen-deficient atmosphere of the manhole.

In another preventable confined space fatality, a worker lost his life in an incident very similar to the Triangle Grading and Paving Case, as described below:

Herman Wilson of Winston-Salem and another co-worker were cleaning and repairing city water lines when gas seeped from a pipe, creating a toxic atmosphere. Just as in the case in Durham above, a state OSHA investigation found that the employer, Jade Ramey Construction, had failed to train their employees in the hazards of entering confined spaces and of the importance of using proper protective equipment and emergency equipment. Jade Ramey was fined $1,400 in the death—far below the already low $7,000 maximum fine—despite the fact that the hazards of working in confined spaces and the methods for reducing these hazards are very well known.  


 

What Caused These Fatalities?

 

The 83 worker fatalities in 2011 were caused by a range of incidents.   Many of these were easily preventable with the use of proper safety precautions, equipment, and worker training.  See Table 4 below.  

 

Table 4.   Top Causes of NC 2011 Workplace Fatalities

Cause

Number of Fatalities

% of Fatalities

Fall from Elevation

16

19

Machinery: Struck or Crushed by

13

16

Motor Vehicle-related

12

14

Struck by Object

11

13

Violence

7

8

Falls—other

6

7

Heat Stress

4

5

Toxic Substances/ Confined Space

4

5

Other

10

12

Percents may not add up to 100 due to rounding

n=83

 

Many Deaths Are Easily Preventable

 

Since the passage of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act, significant progress in reducing job fatality and injury rates has been made. Yet, NC workers continue to die today from entirely preventable causes, such as falls, machinery hazards, and toxic substance exposure.

Special Focus  

  1. 1.       Heat Stress:   There is no federal or state standard that regulates the hazards of  

working in very hot environments. Last summer, Federal OSHA partnered with NC OSHA and many other states in launching a heat stress prevention educational project. Despite these efforts, 2011 was one of the deadliest in years for NC workers who labored in high heat, with four workers dying from heat stress.  

 

  1. 2.       Confined Space Hazards: One of the most preventable and well-understood

causes of workplace death is work in confined spaces, in which workers can be deprived of oxygen and/or exposed to toxic substances. OSHA has clear rules and regulations for what needs to be done to prevent such hazards in terms of worker training, use of oxygen monitors, and emergency response equipment.   Yet, workers continue to die at high rates due to employers not following regulations and approved practices. Last year, four NC workers died in confined space incidents.

 

  1. 3.       Workplace Violence:   Workplace violence is one of the leading causes of

occupational fatalities in the U.S. and in NC. Last year, at least seven people died on the job due to violent acts. These included people working at convenient stores, police officers, and taxi drivers.  

By all account, Abdul Alwarrak, owner of Karim’s Food Mart, was one of Rocky Mount’s most generous residents. “He would give you anything–he probably gave away more than he sold,” commented one neighbor. One night last May, Mr. Alwarrak was shot and killed in a robbery. The same fate was suffered, also in Rocky Mount, just two months earlier by Rafig “Sammy” Soufan, owner of Sam’s Takeout.    

 

NC OSHA Investigations, Violations and Penalties in Occupational Fatality Cases

 

When a workplace fatality occurs, an employer is required to report the fatality to NC OSHA.   If NC OSHA inspectors discover violations of OSHA standards in the course of an investigation, they issue citations and can assess penalties.   There are several different types of violations ranging from the lowest to highest level:   other than serious, serious, repeat or willful.  

According to a 2010 review of NC OSHA’s program by Federal OSHA, NC OSHA classifies violations as “other than serious” far more often than Federal OSHA, which then leads to low penalties.   While Federal OSHA classified 81% of violations as either serious, repeat, or willful in 2009, the comparable figure for NC OSHA was only 42%.

The Federal OSHA review was also critical of the state agency for failing to use its authority to classify violations as “willful,” indicating that the employer knew that they were putting workers at risk, but did so anyway. NC OSHA cited only a single willful violation in the year examined by the Federal OSHA report.   Use of the “willful” classification allows for higher penalties because of the gravity of the violation.   Willful violations send a stronger message to employers that knowingly put their workers in harm’s way. Federal OSHA has used this to great effect in recent years, with fines in a number of cases in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

While fines levied in workplace fatality cases were low, those for violations in other NC OSHA cases were even lower. According to data from Federal OSHA for the most recent year of data available, the average penalty assessed by NC OSHA for a serious violation was only $512.   This is almost 50% less than Federal OSHA’s average serious violation penalty of $970.  

Table 5.   NC OSHA Violations in 2011 Fatality Cases

Type of Violation

Number

Serious

81

Willful

1

Repeat

0

Other

29

Total

111

N=36  fatalities for which NC OSHA found at least one violation

Mean violations per case=3.1

Family members of workplace fatality victims are often shocked to learn that the penalty for unsafe conditions leading to a worker’s death is often pitifully small. The maximum fine that NC OSHA can levy on an employer for a serious violation of an OSHA standard, even if it results in a worker’s death, is only $7,000. Repeated attempts to amend the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Act to raise these maximum penalties—even to keep up with inflation over the decades since they were established—have failed in the U.S. Congress.

Our analysis of 2011 NC OSHA records in which an employer was cited for at least one violation of an OSHA standard in fatality cases found that the median final penalty was $3,250. The median initial fine proposed was $4,050 but these penalties are often reduced in settlement negotiations.   See Table 6 below.

Table 6.   NC OSHA Fines in 2011 Fatality Cases

Median total initial penalty assessed

4,050

Median total final penalty paid

3,250

Highest total penalty paid

31,500

Lowest total penalty paid

150

N=36  fatalities for which OSHA cited for one or more violations

Focus on Penalties

  1. 1.       $1,700 Penalty for a Preventable Fatality:   Low penalties may be

appropriate in fatality cases in which an incident is truly unforeseeable and difficult to prevent.   However, in a number of fatality cases in 2011 that appear to have been preventable, NC OSHA assessed extremely low fines.  

 

In one case, an unidentified 43 year old man working for Parnell Drywall Co. fell to his death from an attic to the floor on a Wake County jobsite. The company was cited for three serious violations of OSHA standards, including those related to the duty to have adequate fall protection and safe ladders. The total amount of the fines assessed was $1,700.

 

  1. 2.       Occasional High Fines, but Often Negotiated Downward:   In a few 2011 cases, NC OSHA used its authority to issue more substantial fines. In three cases, initial penalties were over $25,000. But in two of these cases, these initial fines, as with most NC OSHA penalties, were substantially reduced prior to employer payment of the fine.

 

Lonnie Collins’ leg was caught in a feed milling machine.   His employer, Murphy-Brown, was cited for 9 violations, carrying a penalty of $33,800. The fine was ultimately reduced to $21,800 but it remained one of the largest penalties imposed by NC OSHA during the year.

 

 

Cory Rogers, age 24, was killed in an explosion at the Sutton Progress

Energy plant in Wilmington.   NC OSHA Assessed Progress Energy with

a $31,500 penalty and then reduced it to $21,800.    

 

 


What Needs to be Done to Make NC Workplaces Safer?

At the Federal Level

  1. 1.       Increase the Maximum Fines that State and Federal OSHA Can Impose for Serious Violations:  The U.S. Congress should amend the Occupational Safety and Health Act to increase the maximum fines that state and federal OSHA programs can impose for serious violations of OSHA standards.    
  2. 2.       Enact an Injury and Illness Prevention Program Standard:  The Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration should promulgate an Injury and Illness Prevention Program Standard requiring all employers to develop safety and health plans that identify hazards and implement preventive measures.
  3. 3.       Permit Felony Criminal Prosecution in Cases in Which Reckless Employer Misconduct Leads to Worker Deaths: The U.S. Congress should enact legislation that allows for the possibility of felony criminal prosecution in cases in which reckless employer misconduct leads to worker deaths. Currently, these crimes can only be prosecuted as misdemeanors.  

 

 

At the State Level

 

NC OSHA Should:  

  1. 1.       Impose More Stringent Penalties in Cases in Which Employers’ Actions and   Misconduct Put Workers’ Lives at Grave Risk in Order to Act as an Effective Deterrent to Unsafe Working Conditions.  NC OSHA should use its authority to impose more stringent penalties in cases of employer misconduct that puts workers’ lives at risk. NC OSHA’s current practice of imposing small fines and frequently negotiating these even further downward in settlement discussions leads to fines that are so low that they fail to act as an effective deterrent.  
  2. 2.       Use Current Authority to Cite Employers With “Willful” Violations When Appropriate.   In cases of egregious employer misconduct, NC OSHA should cite employers with “willful” violations that carry significantly higher penalties in order to send a strong message to the employer community in NC that disregard of employee safety and health will not be tolerated.
  3. 3.       Launch a Special Emphasis Program to Protect Hispanic Workers with Outreach to Workers and Employers.   NC OSHA should make a particular effort to protect the safety and health of Hispanic workers by reaching out to these workers with information about job hazards and their rights under OSHA; emphasizing to employers the need to conduct adequate training for their employees who may have limited English ability; and imposing the maximum fines possible on those employers who fail to provide adequate training and protective equipment to these vulnerable workers.
  4. 4.       Ensure that Employees of Small Businesses are Protected.  A large majority of the fatalities we identified in this report involved employees of small businesses. While some have argued that OSHA regulations are a burden on small businesses, NC data indicate that it is precisely small employers that should be targeted most by OSHA’s enforcement and educational efforts.
  5. 5.       Aggressively Enforce Fall Protection Standards in Construction to prevent further deaths from this preventable cause.
  6. 6.       Launch a Special Emphasis Program in Agriculture Targeting High Risk Employers. The high fatality rates in agriculture documented in this report suggest that stricter enforcement of workplace health and safety standards is needed in the agricultural sector.
  7. 7.       Adopt Rules to Prevent Heat Illness in Agriculture. These rules should include provisions to ensure that workers have sufficient access to drinking water and shade; providing for training for employees, supervisors, and employers on heat stress prevention and signs and symptoms of heat illness; providing employees with the ability to communicate with emergency personnel if heat illness symptoms are experienced in the field or in migrant housing; and establishing special protocols for high heat working conditions to protect employee health.

 

The NC Legislature Should:

  1. 1.       Ensure that contractors with bad safety records are not permitted to receive state contracts.   The NC legislature should pass a law requiring the state agencies develop strict safety screening processes to ensure that contractors with bad safety records are not allowed to bid on public works projects.  

 

At the Local Level

 

  1. 1.        Ensure That Contractors With Bad Safety Records Are Not Permitted To Bid On Local Or County Contracts.   City and county governments should pass ordinances directing city and county agencies to develop safety screening measures for potential bidders on publicly funded projects.

At the Workplace:

  1. 1.       Ensure that Young Workers Are Adequately Trained.  Young workers are particularly vulnerable to workplace hazards.   Employers hiring young, inexperienced workers should ensure that these youth are adequately trained on job hazards and encouraged to speak up about any concerns they may have for their safety or health on the job.
  2. 2.       All Employers Should Develop Comprehensive Injury and Illness Prevention Programs.   Several US states require that certain employers, particularly those in hazardous industries, develop comprehensive programs to identify hazards in the workplace and develop plans to reduce or eliminate these hazards. This practice has proven effective in reducing job injury and illness rates and should be adopted by all employers.


 

About Data Sources and Methods

Sources:   Information on fatalities included in this report came from the following sources:

1)     North Carolina OSHA’s “Occupational Fatality Investigation Review” database, posted on its website at http://www.nclabor.com/dol_statistics/stats.htm

2)     Federal OSHA’s database of investigations (which includes investigations conducted by federal OSHA and state OSHA programs) (http://www.osha.gov/oshstats/index.html)

3)     Published news reports

4)     The Center for Construction Research and Training, which keeps a database of all construction-related fatalities

5)     NC Office of the Chief Medical Examiner

 

Employment data by sector comes from the NC Department of Commerce, Division of Employment Security Labor Market Information database at http://eslmi23.esc.state.nc.us/ew.   Data is for the second quarter of 2011.

Race/ethnicity data for NC comes from the Kaiser Family Foundation’s State Health Facts at www.statehealthfacts.org. Data is for 2010.

 

Methods: We included in our list of occupational fatalities list those that either:

  • Were reported by NC OSHA as an occupational fatality; or
  • Occurred on the job and information from news reports clearly indicated that the fatality was work-related.

In some cases, whether the fatality was work-related was unclear from news reports. In these cases, we requested reports from the NC Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to make a determination as to whether a death was work-related. Most deaths due to heart attacks were eliminated from our list because work-relatedness could not be proven. (It is possible that some of these cases were, in fact, occupationally-related, but we could not reach a definitive conclusion on these cases.)The one exception was a firefighter—an occupation which is known to put the employee at higher risk for heart attacks.  

Share/Save