Lack of workplace safety inspectors looms large on Workers’ Memorial Day
April 27, 2018 (RALEIGH)—As North Carolinians commemorate Workers’ Memorial Day and the tragic deaths of people on the job, new numbers on workplace fatalities and fewer safety inspectors show that working people are paying the ultimate price for lax enforcement of workplace health and safety laws.
In 2008, 161 people lost their lives on the job in North Carolina; by 2016, it was 174. Even more troubling, Tar Heel workers are dying a greater rate than their national counterparts—in North Carolina, 3.7 workers for every 100,000 lost their lives on the job, compared to 3.6 out of 100,000 at the national level. That’s why it’s no surprise that North Carolina has the 24th highest rate of workplace fatalities in the country.
“These tragedies don’t just happen by themselves,” said Allan Freyer, Director of the NC Justice Center’s Workers’ Rights Project. “They happen when we don’t enforce the law. And with 174 deaths on the job, it’s clear North Carolina can do better at enforcement. Lives depend on it.”
North Carolina’s ability to enforce health and safety protections has diminished significantly over the last decade. Occupational Safety & Health (OSH) inspectors are the front line of defense against unsafe workplaces and are essential to preventing (cut) deaths on the job. Unfortunately,
North Carolina now has more workers and fewer inspectors than 10 years ago. Today North Carolina has:
- Fewer inspectors. Over the past decade, the number of OSH inspectors has fallen from 114 in 2008 to 102 today.
- More workers per inspector. Each inspector is responsible for more workers than a decade ago, stretching them thinner and thinner. In 2008, there was 1 inspector for every 35,469 workers in North Carolina. Today, there is only 1 inspector for every 41,758 workers. This means fewer inspections, more unsafe workplaces, and more workplace fatalities.
- More workplaces per inspector. It’s the same story when looking at the number of inspectors available to examine workplaces. In 2008, there was 1 inspector for every 2,259 workplaces. Now there is just one inspector for every 2,636 workplaces.
- Too many businesses, not enough time. To inspect 2,636 business in the state, one employee would have to conduct seven inspections every day for 365 days a year in North Carolina. With coverage spread so thin, it’s no wonder workplace safety is slipping in our state.
“No one should ever have to choose between their safety and a paycheck. We can and we must do more to protect working people in this state,” said MaryBe MacMillan, President of the AFL-CIO of North Carolina. “Right now, it would take almost a century — 96 years — for inspectors to inspect every workplace in our state just once. The Department of Labor inspects elevators and amusement rides annually, but we can get to every worksite just once a century. That is unacceptable. We must do better.”
“While we commemorate the 174 working people who lost their lives and remember the tragedy of their passing, we need to never forget that a true memorial requires action,” Freyer said. “The true memorial is to strengthen our state’s labor laws and enforce them to fullest extent.”