The Connecticut AFL-CIO recently held a ceremony in the state capitol in Hartford to honor those workers who were injured or killed on the job last year, as part of a nation-wide observance called Worker Memorial Day. But exactly how many workers are injured on the job in any state is an open question.

A workplace safety watchdog group recently accused one state of grossly underreporting its number of fatal accidents at work. The North Carolina Department of Labor reported that 35 workers died at work in 2012, but the National Council on Occupational Safety and Health said the number is actually more than three times higher than that.

The group’s study found that the state’s figures were too low largely because it doesn’t count deaths that come as a result of traffic accidents or workplace violence, and doesn’t record fatalities among the self-employed. In fact, the group found that workplace violence accounted for at least 13 workplace deaths in the state in 2012. Transportation-related accidents were the largest cause of work deaths, the study found. Over a five-year period, transportation-related incidents on the job caused 291 deaths of workers in the state.

Part of the problem, the group suggested, is that the state does not adequately enforce its workplace safety regulations. The average fine for a safety violation imposed by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is $7,487, but in North Carolina it’s only $1,906. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Labor accused the state of neglecting serious workplace safety hazards, issuing weak fines and mishandling the complaints of whistle-blowers.

No doubt there are similar problems with the reporting of workplace injuries and deaths in many other states. Connecticut workers who feel their safety complaints are not being taken seriously, or who feel they’ve been wronged after they were injured should investigate their legal options. State agencies can’t always be trusted to keep workplaces safe or see that injured workers are treated properly. Sometimes workers have to assert their rights on their own.

Source: Charlotte Observer, “NC job deaths undercounted, study finds,” Ames Alexander, April 30, 2013