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Freightliner fined $50,000 after worker injured

Staff report

The state has fined Freightliner $50,000 after a worker was injured when he was struck by a “homemade hook” at the company’s Cleveland truck manufacturing plant last summer, according to the N.C. Department of Labor.

Freightliner appealed the fine in November.

State officials said in October that Freightliner should be fined for “willful” violations of workplace regulations. That’s the most serious of three categories of fines the state levies.

Todd Ruppard, 28, was struck in the mouth Aug. 21, 2006, when a makeshift hook on a crane lifting the rear end differential of a truck broke off. He suffered injuries to his jaw bone and teeth.

Contacted Wednesday night, Ruppard said he didn’t feel comfortable discussing the accident without first speaking to his attorney.

Since Freightliner is appealing the fine, the state’s attorney general office has taken over the case. A panel appointed by the governor will review the case.

A message left at Freightliner’s corporate offices in Portland, Ore., wasn’t returned Wednesday afternoon.

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The N.C. Department of Labor reported Wednesday that fatalities at work dropped again for 2006.

It has been an unparalleled period of work environment improvements for North Carolina, which saw a drop in fatal work accidents to 62 last year from the previous 68 in 2005. Of the 79 work-related fatalities investigated by the labor department in 2006, 17 involved medical conditions such as heart attacks and seizures.

“I’m not saying that (62) is acceptable, anymore than you can say one fatality is acceptable,” Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry said. “But we can say North Carolina has become among the safest in the country although our population keeps growing by leaps and bounds. We also have a lot of high-hazard industries such as construction, logging, manufacturing and fishing.”

The state labor department investigates work-related fatalities.

In 2000, North Carolina had a work injury and illness rate of 5.7 cases for every 100 full-time workers. The latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show that by 2005 the state’s injury and illness rate had dropped to 4.0 in the private sector. The improvement placed North Carolina among the 10 safest states.

“The fact that we have a safe environment for our workers resonates with people,” Berry said. ” It helps draw new business to North Carolina. A safe work environment contributes to economic development. It’s good for workers, and it’s good for our economic well-being.”

Of the 62 fatalities, 21 occurred in construction. Another 10 took place in manufacturing and nine in the service industry. The agriculture, forestry and fishing industry had seven fatalities, with six fatalities in the transportation and public utilities industry.

Of the five N.C. Department of Labor districts, the Raleigh district with its 38 counties experienced the most fatalities with 22. The Charlotte district with 15 counties followed with 15 fatalities. The Winston-Salem district with 15 counties had 12 fatalities, followed by Wilmington and its 13-county area with 10 fatalities. The Asheville district with its 19 counties had three work fatalities.

Among racial groups, whites had 34 fatalities, followed by Hispanics with 14. Blacks had 13 fatalities. There was one Asian fatality.

Eighteen of the fatal accidents involved being struck by an object such as a truck, forklift or falling equipment. Another 17 North Carolinians suffered fatal falls. Eleven workers were crushed to death; five died in fires or explosions; and three were electrocuted. Another seven workers died in various other event categories.

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