Black Mountain drone company employee among COVID-19 workplace deaths in NC labor report

Ezra Maille Andrew Jones
Black Mountain News

An employee of Kearfott Corporation, a navigation and motion control technology company with an office in Black Mountain, numbered among the COVID-19 related deaths in the North Carolina Department of Labor 2021 workplace fatality count. 

When asked about the employee death, Kearfott declined to comment. 

Kearfott primarily works in the "development and manufacture of guidance, navigation, and motion control components and systems for military and commercial applications." The Motion Systems Division of the company located in Black Mountain designs and manufactures rotary components and electronics.

The NCDOL workplace fatality report included three employees from Buncombe County, two of which died from COVID-19. For a second year, COVID-19 made up a majority of the report's fatalities, accounting for 33.8% of all statewide work-related deaths in 2021. 

The other two fatalities were from an employee of Mission Hospital and an employee with NHM Constructors. The Mission employee was the second COVID-19 related death. 

“Workplace fatalities keep me up at night,” said Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson in a news release. “Every time there is a workplace fatality, I am notified of it and no matter what the cause, it weighs heavy on my mind. Although I am encouraged by the overall reduction in workplace fatalities, we still have work to do."

NCDOL began enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's  COVID-19 Healthcare Emergency Temporary Standard in July 2021. Its aim is to "protect workers who provide healthcare or healthcare support services from COVID-19 in the workplace," according to the NCDOL.

That ETS doesn't include COVID-19 vaccines for businesses, but recently cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court have established a future for vaccines in the workplace, with judges deciding not to require them for big businesses.

Vaccines are, however, required for medical centers that receive Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services funding. 

Mission Health is one of those and as of Jan. 27, is required to mandate vaccines for its employees. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the vaccine remains the best way to fend off severe and sometimes fatal COVID-19 symptoms.

As of Feb. 2, COVID-19 was responsible for more than 20,900 deaths in North Carolina, including 491 in Buncombe County, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. 

The virus hit the health care world especially hard and even local National Nurses United members are calling for better equipment at work and permanent extension of OSHA emergency standard for health care workers.

"Over 68% of the COVID-19 work-related fatalities investigated were associated with employees within the service industry, and the majority were employed in healthcare,” said Kevin Beauregard, director of the state OSH Division.

“These standards were adopted with the specific purpose of reducing COVID-19 work-related illnesses and fatalities among healthcare workers. The primary goals of NCDOL’s OSH Division include reducing the rates of occupational injuries, illnesses and fatalities.”  

Ezra Maille covers the town of Black Mountain, Montreat and the Swannanoa Valley. Reach him at emaille@blackmountainnews.com. 

Andrew Jones is Buncombe County government and health care reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the  USA TODAY Network. Follow or reach him at @arjonesreports on Facebook and Twitter. Email him at arjones@citizentimes.com.