Safety

Safety advocates call for increased fines, more inspectors as workplace safety deaths hit five-year high

2014-04-29T06:00:00Z Safety advocates call for increased fines, more inspectors as workplace safety deaths hit five-year highBy BENJAMIN STORROW Star-Tribune staff writer Casper Star-Tribune Online

The bell at the State Capitol tolled 35 times, once for every worker killed in 2012.

Workplace safety advocates marked Workers' Memorial Day in Cheyenne with family members of the deceased laborers on Monday in a bid to raise awareness about what they said are dangerous working conditions at some of the state's businesses. They argued higher fines and more inspectors are needed if Wyoming is to shed its reputation as one of the most dangerous states in the country to work. 

The events of recent weeks underscored the situation, they said. Federal safety inspectors cited Arch Coal on Wednesday for a fatal accident at its Black Thunder Mine last summer, saying the company failed to correct known safety issues at the mine. That came a week after state regulators proposed a $201,000 fine for Sinclair Refinery near Rawlins relating to a September 2013 fire. In that instance, the refinery purposely disregarded or showed indifference to workplace safety standards, regulators said.  

"In my opinion, it is the culture of safety. It is the mantra of 'we’re the company; you don’t shut down production no matter what,' " said Kim Floyd, executive secretary of the Wyoming AFL-CIO, a union. "Production at all costs. That is what we are fighting."

Wyoming, with its mineral-based economy, had the highest ratio of workplace deaths in the nation on five occasions between 2001 and 2010. The number of people killed on the job reached a five-year high in 2012, the most recent year for which numbers are available, when 35 laborers died at work. The state's ratio of workplace deaths per 100,000 workers was 12.2 for the year. By comparison, the national ratio never broke 5 between 2006 and 2011. Transportation-related accidents accounted for 17 of the 35 fatalities in 2012, followed by contact with equipment (7), violence by people or animals (4) and falls, slips and trips (4).  

State officials have sought to rectify that trend in recent years, hiring seven new safety inspectors in 2012 and setting aside $500,000 to pay for safety training and equipment. The effort has been aided by the formation of several industry safety alliances, including those for the oil and gas, transportation and refining sectors, they said. Still, they acknowledged much work remains to be done.    

"The culture won’t change overnight," said Wyoming Department of Workforce Services Director Joan Evans. 

Dan Neal, executive director of the Equality State Policy Center, said higher fines and more inspectors are needed for Wyoming's numbers to improve. While the state has added inspectors, it still has only 13 people checking safety standards.  Seven of those are "courtesy inspectors," who are invited by employers to inspect their job sites and point out violations. Employers are not fined for being out of compliance in such instances and are instead required to correct the problem.

Higher fines are needed if real change is to be made in companies' behavior, Neal said. He likened the situation to a speeding ticket. Just as a person ticketed for speeding slows down afterward, higher fines change companies' behavior. Sinclair's refinery near Rawlins is an example, he said, noting that the Utah-based company has started working with the state after several hefty fines. The Equality State Policy Center released a report on the issue Monday to coincide with events in Cheyenne.  

"We think people should be alarmed that so many people are getting killed at work," Neal said. "We’re trying to get people to recognize we can work just as hard, we can be just as productive, but we have to work in a way that makes sure everyone who goes to work comes home whole and alive."

Evans was noncommittal on the subject of higher fines. She said while higher fines were not the department's recommendation, "we realize that might be a component of an overall solution."

  

Reach energy reporter Benjamin Storrow at 307-335-5344 or benjamin.storrow@trib.com. Follow him on Twitter @bstorrow

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(8) Comments

  1. IdrahaJe
    Report Abuse
    IdrahaJe - April 30, 2014 4:46 am
    LV,

    On the spot? Really?? If someone's taking a medication, prescribed by a doctor, that they must get from a pharmacy that gives a false positive, then what? I spent years having to submit to random UA's. One thing I learned is that there are people that use inhalers, and other medications, that will show a positive for THC, or narcotics. Firing those folks note spot is hardly justice.

    Are you in favor of killing the accused murderer before a trial??
  2. ROTHLADOAD
    Report Abuse
    ROTHLADOAD - April 29, 2014 10:08 pm
    Are you serious? Your ignorance and disrespectful comment for those people that never returned home to kiss their loved ones or tuck that waiting child into bed disgusts me!
  3. Cowboy Joe
    Report Abuse
    Cowboy Joe - April 29, 2014 8:57 pm
    Blame the victim that's always a classy approach. I'm sure it was the devil weed, surely corporate America and her political allies weren't to blame for dangerous conditions, razor thin safety margins or an never ending pursuit of profits. Where are all the Pro-Life Zealots screaming for increased safety measures? Why not require all drilling rigs to have admission privileges at the local clinic within 30 minutes? Maybe all roughnecks should have to watch a video of how machinery can rip a man's arm off in a half a second before they begin working?
  4. CareyMitchell
    Report Abuse
    CareyMitchell - April 29, 2014 7:34 pm
    If that were true, then 90% of the victims that died in this article would have THC in their body at the autopsy. The article doesn't mention a single person under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of their death. How about you don't defame the memory of these poor people who died by calling them druggies? And these companies all drug test frequently, it's required by their insurers.
  5. Salty Dawg
    Report Abuse
    Salty Dawg - April 29, 2014 1:45 pm
    Agree.
  6. LVHS77
    Report Abuse
    LVHS77 - April 29, 2014 11:50 am
    MANDATORY drug testing all workers every week. Fire them on the spot even for pot. That will cut work place deaths by 90% instantly
  7. rigrat
    Report Abuse
    rigrat - April 29, 2014 9:59 am
    For a long,long time employers in Wyoming have gotten away looking the other way when it comes to worker safety.Oh,I know there are others who will argue that fact to no end,but having spent a long,long time in Wyoming,s oil patch,I,and many others,know better. Years ago one would be hard up to get hurt on the job,then good luck finding another job in this state without a lot of hassle.Right to work,yep,we all know what that means.
  8. Sappho
    Report Abuse
    Sappho - April 29, 2014 9:26 am
    As Regulations Grow...Freedoms Die

    (the following will be a bit of sarcasm, so read as such)

    Who needs stupid regulations when company's should be able to do whatever they want even if that means people might die? Carnegie had it right, pay your folks pennies and make them work in unsafe conditions, regulations are for sissy's.

    Regulations are stupid- the Chemical Spill in West Virginia isn't that big of a deal. Regulations, schmegulations.
    oh wait...
    "Based on our increasing understanding of the chemicals involved in the water crisis, the complexities and implications of the spill keep growing," said Andrea Dietrich, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech.
    if you want to read more here is the link, watch out!!! It has the word 'science' in it!
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140326092040.htm

    I know if there are two things people in Wyoming hate it's the word Science and Regulations!



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