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January 17, 2012 8:22 am

EDITORIAL: Making Wyoming workplaces safer

Written by Tessa Schweigert

Public, private sectors must work together, take action

Here’s the grim reality: Wyoming remains one of the most dangerous places in America to work.

On average, a worker in Wyoming died every 10 days over the last 10 years, according to a recent report.

The scathing assessment is that Cowboy State employers consistently disregard safety rules and tell employees to just “get the job done.”

“Safety occurs as an afterthought,” wrote Dr. Tim Ryan, an epidemiologist who compiled the state report.

Statistics support Ryan’s statement.

Wyoming has ranked worst in the nation for workplace fatalities five of the past 10 years. The state’s overall rate was three and a half times the national average in 2010.

After researching 17 years of data on workplace deaths, Ryan found that more than 85 percent of reports indicated safety procedures were not followed.

Further, in the oil and gas industry, ignored safety rules correlated with 96 percent of deaths from 2001-08. Workers weren’t wearing a seatbelt in 72 percent of transportation-related deaths in the oil and gas industry.

Yes, many of Wyoming’s top industries come with inherent dangers. But steps can be taken to make jobs safer in construction, oil and gas, transportation and agriculture.

Ryan offered important recommendations to help Wyoming reduce its workplace fatalities and injuries. Those include expanding the role of the state Occupational Health and Safety Commission to better coordinate “disjointed” workplace safety efforts.

Better data also is needed — Wyoming lacks a centralized database of occupational injuries and deaths, Ryan noted.

“It’s hard to change what you can’t measure, and it’s hard to measure when you don’t have the data,” Gov. Matt Mead said Friday in a response to a question at the Wyoming Press Association’s convention.

The governor also said Wyoming needs to do more.

“We are not where we want to be in regard to worker safety … It is not a problem solved. I think at this point it is better expressed as a problem further discovered, and there is work to do.”

What that work will look like — and whether the state adopts the report’s recommendations — is yet to be determined.

What is certain: better collaboration is necessary.

Industry leaders, lawmakers, state safety officials and employers must work together to make workplace safety a priority statewide.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that stakeholders are working together quite yet.

Ryan resigned the day after his report was filed in December. While he didn’t talk to Wyoming journalists about his findings, Ryan told the New York Times last week, “The current Legislature is not interested in any new regulations that have to do with safety.”

Not surprisingly, legislators took issue with that conclusion.

“I had zero contact with Dr. Ryan,” Wyoming House Majority Leader Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette, told the Casper Star-Tribune on Friday. “I’m sure Dr. Ryan is a brilliant man, and I’m sure he has some important proposals, and we’d like to hear them. But don’t be lobbing bombs at me without talking to me first.”

The governor said the state plans to move forward. Productive conversations and action need to occur in coming months so Wyoming can succeed in making job sites safer.

Industry leaders and state lawmakers must do everything they can to make it possible for every worker in Wyoming to return home safely.

1 Comment

  • Comment Link January 17, 2012 12:28 pm posted by Keely Geer

    Excellent choice for a topic. There are many other issues pertaining to workplace safety which may be worth mentioning...

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