NC worker fatalities down 34 percent in 2012 - WNCN: News, Weather

NC worker fatalities down 34 percent in 2012

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

Are workers in North Carolina being protected while on the job? Workplace safety advocates say, "No."

Friday, in honor of Workers' Memorial Day, community and labor leaders remembered the 35 workers killed on the job last year in North Carolina and pushed for reform.

The group also released a report, "North Carolina Workers Dying for a Job: A 2013 Report on Worker Fatalities in North Carolina."

Standing outside the North Carolina Department of Labor activists called on NCDOL and Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry to enforce workplace safety regulations.

"Too many employers cut corners and violate the law. Too often workers who report hazards are ignored or disciplined," said MaryBe McMillan, NC AFL-CIO.

Commissioner Berry was unavailable for an interview Friday.

"Commissioner Berry and the Department of Labor are very compassionate to the workers who died," responded Dolores Quesenberry, NCDOL Director of Communications.

Quesenberry pointed to the "great strides" NCDOL has recently made in protecting workers.

"Fatalities dropped in 2012 by 34 percent," said Quesenberry.

But workplace safety advocates say they're not buying it and demanded NCDOL stop issuing minor fines to negligent employers.

"Do your job. Hold companies accountable," said McMillan.

In 2011, two Hispanic workers suffocated inside a manhole while working on a project for the City of Durham.

NCDOL slapped the worker's employer, Triangle Grading and Paving, with the maximum fine of $4-thousand dollars.

"Folks, that's peanuts to these corporations," said McMillan.

Following the 2011 manhole tragedy, a WNCN investigation revealed Triangle Grading and Paving had a history of serious safety violations but municipalities were not checking safety records or considering them during the bidding process.

Currently, state law only requires municipalities to grant public work contracts to the lowest bidder.Democratic state representative, Paul Luebke of Durham plans to change that.

Rep. Luebke introduced House Bill 906. The Public Contractor Safety Act creates a safety rating system.

If passed, companies would be required to maintain a certain safety rating in order to be eligible to bid on public work contracts.

The bill has been filed and sent to the rules committee. Representative Luebke tells WNCN he is hopeful that it will garner the support of other legislators and move forward to become law.

Charlotte Huffman

An award-winning journalist with an investigative edge, Charlotte has driven legislative change with reports on workplace safety concerns and contaminated groundwater. Contact our Investigative Team anytime HERE. More>>

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