Workplace deaths in North Carolina rose in 2008 after three years of declines, and officials worry that the nation’s sagging economy is partly to blame.
Preliminary data provided by the North Carolina Department of Labor shows that there were 59 work-related deaths last year, up from 45 in 2007, the Charlotte Observer reported.
Labor observers worry that companies could be cutting corners on safety, making their workplaces more dangerous. Labor Department spokeswoman Dolores Quesenberry said training and safety measures are often among the first things cut from budgets.
“That’s one of the first messages we want to get to employers: Make sure your employees are trained,” Quesenberry told the Observer. “It’s not worth a life.”
The rise in workplace deaths follow three years of declines, something state Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry had cited as proof that her department’s approach was working. Berry contends her department improves safety by working with businesses instead of punishing them with fines.
Relatives of a man who died in Charlotte last week question whether the company that employed him was using proper safeguards. Johnny Drosinis, 46, died after he was crushed beneath a hydraulic lift that stacks cinderblocks.
“The circumstances of his death are very peculiar,” said Drosinis’ older brother, Dino. His employer, Cemex Inc., had no comment about the circumstances.
State accident investigations typically take about three or four months. Officials said inspectors will examine whether the hydraulic lift had the proper safeguards, whether the equipment was properly maintained and whether the workers were properly trained to use it.
Tom O’Connor, coordinator of the safety advocacy group National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, said an economic slump sometimes lead to a decline in occupational deaths because there are not as many workers in the field. But he said a down economy can also pressure companies to cut corners.
“Sometimes the way to get a low bid is to use less experienced workers. Maybe (companies) skimp on some of their safety precautions,” O’Connor said.
Information from: The Charlotte Observer,
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