Clipped From The News Leader
A8 Daily News Leader, Monday, July 20, 1992 fteforms since chicken plant fire could make N.C. a leader in safety RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) When 25 people died in a chicken plant fire in Hamlet, N.C, was used as an example example for reformers who said government government wasn't doing enough to protect workers. Now the state is becoming an example example again this time, of workplace workplace safety reform. "It will have policies as good as any state in the country," said Joseph Joseph Kinney, director of the National National Safe Workplace Institute in Chicago, a group that ranks states' worker safety programs. "Certainly it would be one of a handful of states that are leaders instead instead of followers in this arena." When fire struck Imperial Food Products Inc. on a morning in September September 1991, fire exits were locked a violation of state safety codes. But the plant never had been inspected inspected in 11 years of operation. At the time, North Carolina ranked last in the number of worker safety inspectors among 23 states operating their own inspection programs. programs. The state had just 16 inspectors. inspectors. That's changing. The Legislature already has enacted enacted a law funding new inspectors. The law will add 61 inspectors, giving giving North Carolina the second largest largest state inspection staff in the country, country, said Charles Jeffress, assistant commissioner of the state Labor Department. Lawmakers are considering a measure that would require some high-risk high-risk high-risk companies to form worker safety committees, making North Carolina one of four states that require require such panels, Jeffress said. That measure also would make North Carolina one of seven states to require some companies to establish establish their own safety programs, he said. "As tragic as the fire was, it was an opportunity to make the state aware of all the health and safety problems," said Mark Schulz, director director of the North Carolina Occupational Occupational Safety and Health Project, a worker advocacy group. Schulz said worker advocates didn't get everything they wanted, such as safety committees in every workplace with 10 or more employees. employees. And because the state will use insurance industry ratings to target companies for some of the new rules, businesses may escape the scrutiny by dropping insurance policies policies for self-insurance self-insurance self-insurance programs, he said. Union leaders said the changes aren't enough. "What North Carolina is doing right now is tinkering around the edges," said Debbie Berkowitz, health and safety director for the United Food and Commercial Workers union. She said federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration laws need an overhaul to give workers workers more participation in workplace safety issues and to strengthen inspection inspection programs across the country. country. North Carolina's example may help congressional supporters of legislation that would do just that, said Ross Eisenbrey, general counsel counsel for the committee considering the bill. "Here's the state that recently has come to terms with tragedy, and they have found that the best way to deal with it is through OSHA reform," reform," he said. Ms. Berkowitz agreed. "The fact that North Carolina OSHA is making these kinds of changes is very significant and will probably help clearly it will help the passage of federal OSHA reform," reform," she said.