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When Workers Die from Job Injuries in North Carolina, Companies Often Get Breaks on State Fines

January 29 , 2024

North Carolina – January 12, 2024 – According to data reviewed by The Charlotte Observer, across North Carolina, state labor officials trimmed penalties more than 40% of the time after citing companies for violations linked to worker deaths in 2022 and 2023.

Businesses can request lower penalties when safety inspectors find workplace hazards.

Among the companies that got breaks in Mecklenburg County:

  • Friends Masonry, a contractor, was cited for three serious violations in the January 2, 2023, scaffolding collapse that killed three men at the building site of a 16-story apartment complex near Charlotte’s Dilworth neighborhood. Labor officials cut the company’s penalty by a third — from $43,500 to $29,004.
  • Baker Insulation, a contractor, was initially cited for four serious violations related to the massive fire that killed two construction workers near SouthPark Mall on May 18, 2023. The state ultimately deleted three citations and reduced the fine by 25% — from $6,250 to $4,687.
  • Metrolina Greenhouses, a Huntersville company, was cited for two serious violations after an employee fell to his death while preparing to install overhead lighting on May 24, 2022. State officials proposed a fine of $29,153 but cut that by 35% — to $18,949.

Such penalty reductions send a dangerous message to employers, lawyers, and others who advocate for workers.

“How are fines supposed to be a deterrent if they are so low and can be easily reduced?” said Ashley Hawkins, President of the Charlotte-Metrolina Labor Council, representing unionized workers locally. “…It sends a message to employers that it’s okay to mistreat workers in North Carolina. That it’s okay to endanger workers in the pursuit of profits.”

A Debate Over How to Make North Carolina Job Sites Safer

The state agrees to negotiate with employers because that’s often the fastest way to get them to correct workplace hazards, said Paul Sullivan, Assistant Deputy Commissioner of the Occupational Safety and Health Division.

Sullivan said that when the state agrees to reduce penalties, it usually requires employers to make additional safety improvements, such as requiring extra training or safety inspections. According to Labor Department spokesperson Erin Wilson, in the SouthPark fire settlement, the state agreed to cut the fines levied against Baker Insulation after stipulating that the company had to improve its safety and health program.

“We’re trying to get some additional concessions from the employer,” Sullivan said. He said that if the state doesn’t budge on reducing penalties and companies choose to litigate, that can take more than a year and delay safety improvements.

North Carolina doesn’t always reduce fines. After the SouthPark fire, the labor department deleted one of its citations against MCRT Carolinas Construction LLC, the contractor on the 239-unit apartment building, Modera SouthPark. But in the settlement reached with MCRT last week, the state did not reduce the $46,875 penalty.

The Assistant Deputy Labor Commissioner Sullivan cited federal data showing that North Carolina reduces fines less than most states.

North Carolina made companies pay about 81% of all initial penalties in the federal fiscal year 2023, with $6.9 million collected. According to the U.S. Department of Labor data, the average amount collected nationally was 70% during the same period.

But North Carolina has lagged in other categories, according to the AFL-CIO’s most recent “Death on the Job” report. For each of the five years ending in 2021, the workplace fatality rate in North Carolina exceeded the national average, that report shows. According to the most recent federal data, there were 3.9 deaths for every 100,000 workers in 2021, compared to 3.6 nationally.

The average penalty for a serious workplace safety violation in fiscal year 2023 was $3,709, slightly below the national average of $3,866, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Workplace safety advocates say the state penalties are often too low to get the attention of many employers. The median penalty ultimately levied in workplace death cases from 2022 to 2023 was a little less than $12,000, The Observer found. “If you’ve got someone dying at work because of a workplace safety violation, a penalty of $12,000 seems grossly inadequate to me for an employer whose carelessness allowed an employee to be killed,” said a Charlotte workers’ compensation lawyer.

The Ramsay Law Firm has attorneys who are Board Certified in Workers’ Compensation claims to help individuals with severe injuries and death claims.

A Voice For The Injured. Here Every Step of The Way. Call 704-376-1616 or contact us online.

Notes: Our team created this post using secondary sources and has not independently verified all the facts surrounding the accident. If you find any incorrect details, please contact the Ramsay Law Firm so we can update the post with the most accurate information. This post will be removed if requested.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not intended to be legal or medical advice. This post is not a solicitation for business. The photograph used in this post is not representative of this accident. If you are injured in an accident, seek medical attention immediately, then speak to a North Carolina personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.

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