Twenty years ago, North Carolina witnessed its worst industrial accident during a fire at a chicken plant in Hamlet, NC. OSHA officials had never inspected the plant. Twenty five people were killed as a result of the fire, primarily because doors at the plant had been locked to prevent theft. OSHA officials found over 80 violations after the accident.
As a result of the infamous Hamlet accident, OSHA increased the number of state inspectors and vowed to increase employer inspections to further workplace safety. Although the program may have had some success initially, statistics indicate that OSHA's progress has declined over the past the decade.
OSHA inspections and citations have decreased dramatically, reaching North Carolina's lowest level since the Hamlet fire. Meanwhile, workplace fatalities have increased more than 40 percent over the past year. 2010 monetary penalties for workplace violations did increase substantially compared to recent years. However, the average fine for a serious violation was only $884, a small number in comparison to the national average.
One major challenge is that the reporting of workplace injuries is based on an honor system, meaning it is the employers' duty to report the injuries to the state (absent a fatality). As such, many injuries go unreported, thus skewing the statistics on workplace safety.