In the wake of the question, the silence deafened.
“Has anyone taken advantage of the workplace safety consultation program?” Holland & Hart lawyer Trey Overdyke asked.
No hands. One man seated in the front of a safety conference in Casper mumbled something, then spoke up after Overdyke prompted him.
“Yes,” repeated the man, one of more than 150 workers from coal and uranium mining firms and oil and natural gas operators who attended the conference.
Powered by recent legislation and hoping to stem the state’s high rate of worker deaths, Wyoming is striving to promote the work safety consultations — no-fault inspections by state Occupational Safety and Health Administration consultants invited to work sites.
But as the attendees at the safety conference showed, employers in the state don’t commonly take advantage of the program.
State data shows that state consultants conducted 138 consultations in 2011, or one for every 167 of Wyoming’s 23,000 employers.
One reason for the low use of the state’s two to three safety consultants: It took months after consultants were invited to workplaces for them to actually visit.
“I’ve heard some of my clients say it would take six to nine months before you’d get a response,” said Overdyke, who works in the Jackson office of Holland & Hart, which often represents energy companies in the state.
Former state occupational epidemiologist Timothy Ryan noted the need for workplace safety consultants in his report to Gov. Matt Mead in December. Ryan resigned the day after submitting his report and joined the private sector.
The Wyoming Legislature this year shot down legislation boosting fines for workplace safety violations. It did approve a bill that provided funding for small companies with expensive safety equipment purchases and expanded the workplace safety consultant program.
Last month the state Department of Workforce Services announced it had filled seven new safety consultant positions, which would be based in Casper, Cody, Evanston, Lander, Gillette and Rock Springs.
“The department looks forward to getting these individuals on the ground to provide additional support to Wyoming businesses and continuing to work towards our shared goal: making work environments safer for Wyoming workers,” said Joan Evans, director of the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services.
They’ll have work to do.
The six-month lag by the consultants was “not acceptable,” said Gary Hartman, a top Mead adviser who led the search for Ryan, the occupational epidemiologist.
The additional consultants should be trained and ready to go by December, cutting the response time to two weeks, Hartman said.
“We’re moving down the road toward better workplace safety for the state of Wyoming,” Hartman told attendees of the conference, hosted by the Wyoming Mining Association, the Wyoming Contractors Association and the Petroleum Association of Wyoming.
Despite the lag, Overdyke told conference attendees they should take advantage of the rejuvenated program.
“We recommend you use those,” he said.