State Labor Dept. gets harsh critique

A sobering assessment came out this week of the North Carolina agency responsible for ensuring that workplaces in the state are safe.

The 41-page report and audit of released Monday by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational and Safety Division took N.C. Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry’s department to task on several worker safety issues.

Among the 12 problem areas the audit found was agency’s failure to keep families of fatal workplace accident victims fully informed about investigation results, misclassification and downplaying of the seriousness of violations in workplaces, a penalty system that allows for significant reductions in fines (including a 10 percent discount for “cooperation”), and a discrimination and retaliation division that didn’t follow federal procedures of how to investigate complaints.

Here’s what the report had to say about how North Carolina categorizes violations in workplaces:

It was noted that some violations that would most likely have been classified as serious by federal OSHA were classified as non-serious by the state, and some violations categorized as low or medium severity would have been categorized as high severity by federal OSHA.

The review of North Carolina’s Department of Labor was one of 25 the federal labor department conducted of Occupational Safety and Health programs  around the country. The audit looked at case files from October 2008 to September 2009. To read the full report, and all the recommendations made by federal authorities, go here.

The report also criticized how investigators in the retaliation and whistleblower cases division required that complaints be submitted in person as well as the conducting interviews with those claiming discrimination over the phone instead of in person. Federal OSHA procedures that call for in-person interviews in discrimination cases, to evaluate a person’s demeanor, except in unusual circumstances and also don’t carry requirements that a person write out complaints in person.

Settlements brokered or approved by the state in discrimination cases also had components that federal OSHA  rules would simply not approve, including “gag” provisions and waiving of individuals’ rights to sue or seek further action against their employers, according to the report.

Thoughts about this report? Feel free to share, either through comments here or emailing Policy Watch reporter Sarah Ovaska at [email protected]


  1. Rob Schofield

    September 29, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    According to the OSHA press release, “States will have 30 days to provide a formal response, including a detailed corrective action plan for addressing findings and recommendations. Each state’s formal response will be public information and available online as soon as it is received.”

    Sounds like this will be worth watching closely.

  2. Alex Morris

    September 29, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    Just another inept department within state government. Until we get the entrenched Democrats out of office, we will see no improvement in this state.

  3. Daily Roundup, Wednesday, September 29 «

    September 29, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    […] State Labor Dept. gets harsh critique […]

  4. Sarah Ovaska

    September 29, 2010 at 5:18 pm


    Just to clarify, Cherie Berry, who has N.C.’s Labor Commissioner since her 2000 election, is a Republican.

  5. Alex Morris

    September 29, 2010 at 5:23 pm


  6. James

    September 29, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    Sarah, you’re too kind by a wide margin.

    Mr. Morris, Cheri Berry IS the top … she was elected independently by a majority of uninformed voters, who, like you, labor (pun intended) under delusions about how government actually works.

    If you want to blame someone for NC having a breathtakingly incompetent secretary of labor, look in the mirror.

  7. Alex Morris

    September 29, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    James should take a look in the mirror and wonder why he keeps voting for the same old corrupt group of politicians who have run this state for years. How many scandals in state government does it take for an intelligent person to see that something is totally wrong? You would have to be delusional to expect any different results.

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