The federal government is taking over enforcement of much of North Carolina's worker safety program, a move some welcomed Wednesday as a way to help avert another disaster similar to the poultry plant fire that killed 25 people and injured 56 last month in Hamlet.
Wednesday's action marked the first time in the 21-year history of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that the federal government has taken over part of a state's responsibility for enforcing worker safety laws.
Investigators said that locked exit doors at Imperial Food Products caused some of the deaths. The 11-year-old plant had never been inspected.
In Washington, Labor Secretary Lynn Martin said that OSHA is adding four investigators to the OSHA area office in Raleigh to carry out the new enforcement duties.
Two others will be added to investigate complaints about discrimination against employees in North Carolina who report workplace safety and health violations, Martin said. Other staff will be added within a month to bring the total number of federal inspectors in the state to 14.
"We welcome the additional help represented by these federal inspectors, even though we still do not understand why federal OSHA is insisting on a separate OSHA program in North Carolina," state Labor Secretary John Brooks told reporters.
"It would be more efficient, save taxpayers money, reduce bureaucracy . . . and be easier for employees and employers to understand if additional inspectors could be fitted into the existing state program," he said.