New Labor Department report finds North Carolina among safest work environments in U.S.

Our Charlotte workers’ compensation lawyers noted in an earlier post to our North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyers blog some disturbing findings regarding state-run workplace safety oversight programs. We reported that a recent audit by the U.S. Department of Labor of state-run initiatives (in lieu of federal oversight via the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) found both South and North Carolina programs to be weak-handed and largely ineffective. That fines were low, often discounted and even waived and violations were consistently understated and misclassified.

Now, a new federal study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics regarding the rate of workplace injuries has found that both South and North Carolina are among the safest places in the nation for workers. The Asheville Citizen-Times reports that the rate of private industry injury and illness rates in North Carolina have hit a five-year low – dropping from 4.0 per 100 full-time workers in 2005 and 2006, to 3.7 in 2007, to 3.4 in 2008, to 3.1 per 100 full-time North Carolina workers in 2009.

The Labor Department cites, of course, both North Carolina workers and employers for playing a key role in making the workplace a safer environment. But also points to a slowed economy, the implementation of OSHA online safety and health training programs, and target efforts in specific industries (like construction).

At least one critic of the findings told Bloomberg Businessweek that despite the downturn in the economy and less production on many job sites, he expected that incidents of North Carolina workplace injury or illness would increase because fewer workers are doing more in less time. And when measured against recent criticism by the Labor Department regarding state-run workplace safety programs, one wonders whether all injuries are being reported.

North Carolina Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry said regardless of the controversy, workers and employers across the state deserve credit for their efforts to improve safety. Berry supports the state-run programs and says they have shown results because they create an environment of cooperation instead of coercion. That a tailor-made home-grown oversight program better addresses state problems than a federal “one-size-fits-all” effort as would be imposed by OSHA oversight.

For North Carolina workers stricken with a work-related illness or injury, workers’ compensation attorneys with Lee & Smith know recovery and adjustment can be a lifelong battle. If you have been injured, or someone you love has been injured or succumbed to a work-related illness in Winston-Salem or anywhere else in the state, call us at 1-800-887-1965 or contact our law offices online to discuss your rights.

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