To address Wyoming’s long-standing distinction as among the deadliest states in the nation for workers, state and industry officials must work cooperatively to create a “culture of safety,” according to the Wyoming Occupational Epidemiologist Timothy Ryan.
By Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile
“Over the last year I have analyzed 17 years of occupational fatality data (1992-2008), read through fatality case reports, and have spoken with hundreds of employees working for various sized companies in the major industries in Wyoming. The Nature of the Problem in Wyoming: The common theme throughout is the lack of a ‘culture of safety’ in Wyoming,” Ryan wrote in a December 19 “interoffice memorandum” to Gov. Matt Mead.
Click here for the full 9-page report, which was released to the public for the first time late Tuesday morning.
A total of 369 workers died on the job in Wyoming from 2001 through 2010, creating a per 100,000 workers annual fatality rate that ranked Wyoming either the worst or second-worst in the nation for a decade – with the exception of 2009 when Wyoming ranked fourth deadliest. Several legislative measures have been proposed in recent years to persuade safer practices, such as tougher seatbelt laws, holding operators accountable for their own proven negligence and raising fines for safety violations that lead to the death of a worker.
None of the bills passed.
Ryan, who submitted his resignation along with his recommendations report last December, didn’t list any of those legislative measures as part of a strategy to make Wyoming’s workplaces less deadly.
Instead, he recommends the state and industry continue to cooperate in a recent effort to identify and implement best industry practices, particularly in Wyoming’s oil and natural gas fields. He said the state should also promote the use of free “courtesy inspections,” which have long been a service provided by the Wyoming Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The purpose of a courtesy inspection is to identify hazards and get professional advice on how to come into compliance with safety standards. A company that requests a courtesy inspection from Wyoming OSHA is essentially promised that no citations will be issued as a result of the inspection. Yet, fewer than 2 percent of Wyoming’s workplaces request a courtesy inspection, according to Ryan’s report.
Even at that rate, Wyoming OSHA officials have said they are so short-staffed that it can still take months for OSHA to respond to a request for a courtesy inspection.
Ryan’s recommendations also include the continuation of his effort to create a central database for information related to workplace fatalities, which should be easily accessed for analysis. The focus of all these efforts should be on Wyoming’s “high risk” industries, which Ryan lists as “oil and gas, transportation and construction,” he wrote.
Gov. Mead issued a prepared statement following the report, promising that the state would continue its focus on understanding and improving workplace safety.
“I believe that we must find ways to get workers in Wyoming home safely at the end of the day,” Mead said. “These recommendations are a first step on the path to making every workplace safer. They do not provide a solution but show that some systemic changes need to be made. They also indicate we still have work to do to further evaluate and make progress in workplace safety.”
Mead reiterated his intention to hire another state occupational epidemiologist to replace Ryan, and move the position to the Department of Workforce Services.
“I am committed to this effort and want the position to continue with the objective of reducing workplace fatalities and injuries,” Mead said.
FROM THE REPORT:
Nature of the Problem
- There is a breakdown in communication between the upper management, supervisors, and employees regarding safety.
- “Often the safety training that we receive is not enforced on the worksite.”
- Employees are told to “get the job done” and safety protocol and rules are not enforced, resulting in injuries and fatalities.
- On any one job-site, there can be a wide range in the safety standards.
- Organize and develop continuity of ongoing efforts.
- Develop data monitoring system for the collection and timely analysis of occupational data.
- Promote OSHA courtesy inspections.
- Support efforts by industry to develop, monitor and enforce safety standards and practices.