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North Carolina may be underreporting worker deaths

For a worker in this state to become a statistic, a workplace injury, illness or even a work-related death, is never a hoped-for outcome. Perhaps the only thing worse might be to be killed on the job and to not even be counted as a statistic; and that, it seems, is the fate that befalls many North Carolina workers.

Work-related deaths seem to be on the decline; according to the state Labor Commissioner, in 2013, only 23 such deaths happened. But this figure may be artificially low. Half of the states in the United States operate their own workplace safety and health programs; of those, North Carolina is one of only three states that only provides statistics about cases that it investigates. If there is no investigation, then even when a worker dies on the job it does not count toward the state record of workplace deaths.

The result is that the 23 deaths reported in 2013 apparently represent only one-fifth of the actual number for that year. The other 80-plus deaths were not investigated, so officially they are not counted.

There can be many reasons why the North Carolina investigators responsible for following up on worker deaths may not carry out an investigation. If an employer can convince the investigator that the deceased worker was not an employee but rather an independent contractor, for example, no investigation may ensue.

Other workers whose deaths may not be investigated include the self-employed, small farm laborers, owners of companies that are not incorporated, workers killed in vehicle accidents and workers who do not die from their injuries until more than six months have passed. Sometimes these are not investigated because of restrictions in place under federal law. On other occasions the state may inadvertently not count as workplace deaths that ordinarily it would count even under its restrictive policies.

The bottom line is, if you are injured on the job, or if you are the survivor of a worker who died in a work-related accident, you might not be able to count on the state to even investigate the accident, not to mention help you. But a personal injury law firm that handles work-related injury and death cases can inform you of what legal rights you may have.

Source: The News & Observer, "Many NC workers deaths go uncounted," Mandy Locke, April 11, 2015

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