Wyoming is on the verge of replacing the state’s first but recently departed work safety “champion,” an adviser to Gov. Matt Mead said.

The Wyoming Department of Workforce Services has selected an occupational epidemiologist candidate and extended an employment offer, Gary Hartman, a policy adviser to the governor, said in a speech before an energy industry safety conference Tuesday in Casper.

“That person needs to be the safety champion for the state of Wyoming,” Hartman said.

Hartman led the search in 2010 for Timothy Ryan, the state’s first occupation epidemiologist who stepped down from the position in December after a year’s service.

Ryan quit and took a job in the private sector after sending a scathing report to Mead. Ryan detailed the state’s high rate of workplace deaths and concluded from interviews with industry workers that the state lacked a culture of workplace safety.

Ryan’s report “highlighted a conversation the state has gotta have,” said Trey Overdyke, a lawyer with the Jackson office of Holland & Hart, a law firm that often represents energy companies in worker death and injury lawsuits.

“Any fatality is too high, but what these numbers show is that our roads are killing us,” he told attendees of the conference, which was sponsored by the Wyoming Mining Association, the Wyoming Contractors Association and the Petroleum Association of Wyoming.

Wyoming had the second-highest rate of worker deaths in 2010, according to the latest federal data.

Only West Virginia topped Wyoming’s rate. In 2010, 29 workers at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia died in an explosion.

Hartman said he thinks things have gotten better in Wyoming since 2008, when the state had the highest worker death rate in the nation, but “we’ve got a long way to go,” he said.

Ryan’s report showed that nearly half of workers who died in Wyoming did so while on roads in the state.

Hartman said the new occupational epidemiologist should make it a priority to build a system to gather Wyoming fatality data — information either uncollected or usually transferred to the federal government for analysis.

“We need good data, we need careful data, we need to have that data so we can make good decisions,” he said.

Reach Jeremy Fugleberg at 307-266-0623 or jeremy.fugleberg@trib.com. Read his blog at http://trib.com/news/opinion/blogs/boom/ and follow him on Twitter: @jerenergy.

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