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Investigation reveals many uncounted N.C. workplace deaths

A recent investigation by the Raleigh News & Observer found that the state of North Carolina reports and investigates only a fraction of deaths that occur in the workplace. Thus, the recent report from the North Carolina Labor Commission that the work-related death toll was the lowest since 2001 is based on only a partial count of actual workplace deaths.

Sometimes, investigators are hampered by state or federal laws that limit their ability to dig into the facts of a death. On other occasions, investigators are prevented from doing their work by employers who claim that workplace safety laws don't apply to their businesses.

The Labor Commission has also changed its method of counting workplace deaths. Before 2006, the department reported all workplace deaths without regard to whether the agency was authorized to investigate the incident. After 2006, the commission began to report only the cases that it investigates. The commission denied any intent to mislead the public; instead, an assistant commissioner asserted that the commission was reporting only the cases that it might be able to impact.

Anyone who has lost a loved one in a workplace accident does not need to rely on the state Labor Commission to investigate the accident. A consultation with an attorney who frequently represents injured workers and the families of deceased workers can help determine whether to pursue a private investigation. Depending on the results of the investigation, the attorney can advise on whether to seek workers' compensation benefits or bring a lawsuit against the parties whose negligence or other conduct caused the accident.

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

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