A bell tolled 174 times outside the state capitol building Friday morning to mark the state’s 2016 death toll of workers while on duty.
The North Carolina State AFL-CIO and other activist groups organized the 2018 Workers’ Memorial Day Service as part of a World Day for Safety and Health. Over a span of seven minutes and 38 seconds, leaders struck a bell about 10 times each as they reached a total of 174 rings.
They demanded an increase in inspections, training, and penalties for workplace violations.
“We’ve seen our workplace fatalities in North Carolina increase in the past three years,” state AFL-CIO President MaryBe McMillan said. “Yet our labor commissioner (Cherie Berry) seems to embrace a philosophy of less when it comes to work place safety. Less regulation, less enforcement, less fines.”
Dolores Quesenberry, the Director of Communications for the N.C. Department of Labor, responded in an email to CBS 17, saying that it is important to remember workers who do not return to their homes at the end of the day.
“Early on in her service, Commissioner Berry determined that the most effective way for her to honor anyone who loses their life in the workplace is to work harder to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future,” Quesenberry said.
“Though zero injuries and fatalities in the workplace is our goal, North Carolina’s injury and illness rate has steadily declined since 2001 and remains at an all-time low, and N.C. is one of the safest states in which to work with an injury and illness rate below the national average.”
Dozens of people at the rally held pictures of people who died on the job. They included the chairman of the Polk County Board of Commissioners, Tom Pack, who died from a head injury he suffered in a fall at his carpet manufacturing business. Terrell Fire and Rescue Captain Bradley Steven Long died during an attempted lake rescue.
Teenage lifeguard Rachel Rosoff of Raleigh died from electrocution when she dove into a pool with a broken pump motor. The most recent electrical inspection of the pool was in 1979, 20 years before Rosoff’s birth.
“My daughter passed away while she was working a job in 2016, due to some negligence in policy and procedure rules and regulations that were not followed,” Michelle Rosoff said.
Legislators introduced a bill called Rachel’s Law, which would require annual electrical inspections of swimming pools. It did not reach the stage needed for the legislature to vote on the measure, but Michelle Rosoff is hopeful state representatives will pass the bill during the next session which starts in May.
“Once it touches one of the politicians, things may change,” Rosoff said. “It’s beyond frustrating. It makes you feel like your child has no real value to anybody else but yourself.”
Some of the activists at the rally held up signs which said “Why isn’t @NCDOL here?” The AFL-CIO invited Berry to join them for the event. After they finished the ceremonial ringing of the bell, they marched to the Department of Labor office to deliver an invitation for next year’s event.
Quesenberry said the commissioner is in the middle of a three-month workplace safety and health recognition season, which includes 30 ceremonies across the state to recognize employers and employees who go above and beyond the requirements of the law to protect their workers. She said Berry is unlikely to attend the event next year as its organizers have an agenda of opposing the commissioner.
Michelle Rosoff said she hopes Berry’s office will take additional actions including hiding more inspectors and imposing harsher fines.
“I want the Department of Labor to stop protecting these businesses and start protecting their employees, because it’s insane. I mean, they get a slap on the wrist. Somebody’s dead, and they get a slap on the wrist,” she said.
Statistics are not yet available for 2017.
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