2017 Fiscal Year State Budget, Commentary

Budget cuts workplace safety inspectors, puts workers at risk

Every worker deserves a safe workplace where their lives and health are protected. Unfortunately, a small provision in the joint budget does just the opposite—it puts workers at risk by weakening the ability of the Department of Labor to enforce the state’s occupational safety laws.

Specifically, the joint budget adopts a House recommendation to eliminate two inspector positions at the North Carolina Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) division. This measure could not be more ill-timed—137 workers died on the job in 2014, up from 109 the year before. And already in 2016, the US Department of Labor has reported 30 fatalities so far this year at the workplaces the agency was able to inspect. And the death toll is likely much higher, as the count only includes those workplaces the Labor Department is able to inspect.

Tellingly, the budget notes that NCDOL eliminated these positions specifically because they remained unfilled for two years—which supposedly suggests that they were unnecessary. But this is not a reasonable explanation, given the rising number of workplace fatalities. Rather, it appears much more likely that the Secretary of Labor, Cherie Berry, has proven as lax in enforcing state occupational health and safety laws as she has in enforcing wage theft laws.

Workplace deaths are unacceptable. Both the General Assembly and Secretary Berry need to reverse course and support the hiring of more OSH inspectors, not fewer.

 

Carol Brooke contributed to this report.

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