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Department of Labor opens investigation into fatal South Park fire

Workplace death investigations generally take at least six months to complete.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The North Carolina Department of Labor quickly sent compliance officers to the site of Thursday's deadly South Park five-alarm fire in Charlotte to begin an inspection. That inspection focuses on ensuring crews followed all state and federal rules. Those investigations usually take at least six months to complete.

When someone dies while at work in the Carolinas, Occupational Health and Safety Administration data shows, more often than not, inspectors find violations.

National Fire Protection Association research reveals an increase in construction site fires leading up to the pandemic. The NFPA reports an average of 4,300 every year.

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"It tells me that we are not good at keeping our construction sites fire safe," NFPA Director of Research Birgitte Messerschmidt said.

She said those fires are often hindered by the fact the same fire protection devices installed to keep people safe when they move in are usually not working at this phase of the building process.

"The things that are protecting the combustibles, the sprinkler systems and so on, are often not functioning during the construction," she said.

While deaths are usually rare in these cases, with an average of five a year, the NFPA strongly recommends a fire prevention program manager be on site.

"Somebody that's responsible for making sure that the fire prevention measures are in place when you are doing construction," she added.

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OSHA has a laundry list of safety requirements for construction sites, including an emergency action plan in writing at the workplace in certain instances, along with clear escape route procedures and an employee alarm system. 

"Safe escape for the construction workers, how do you get out if something happens, is absolutely key," Messerschmidt added.

North Carolina Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson knows construction deaths made up the most workplace fatalities in this state in 2022. He previously pledged to focus on improving safety in hopes of driving down those numbers.

"We're going to double down on that and try to do more training," he told WCNC Charlotte earlier this year.

Before Thursday's fire, at least five other people were killed on the job due to a fire in the Carolinas since 2018, according to OSHA data, but not at construction sites from what WCNC Charlotte can tell.

Contact Nate Morabito at nmorabito@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. 

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