In early 2014, North Carolina Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry had some good news to share: Workplace deaths dropped significantly, with only 23 people having died in accidents on the job in the past year.
It was the smallest annual toll since Berry took office in 2001.
That count, though, captured only a sliver of the tragedies that met workers on the job, a News & Observer investigation shows. The state Department of Labor left out more than 80 fathers, brothers, daughters and neighbors who died while trying to make a living. They were farmers, mechanics, janitors, roofers and painters killed or fatally injured by an unexpected hazard at work.
Dozens of North Carolina workers die each year with little or no notice from state officials. No inspector asks questions, no one demands reform, no one pays a fine. Often, that is because of narrow state and federal laws that prohibit state investigation.