Workplace accidents lead to situations that are already too difficult.
Grieving family members crave answers and mourn the sudden loss or injury of a loved one, all while employers and regulators sort through what happened, who was at fault and how a similar accident could be prevented in the future.
Those are competing goals, and each is important. But there must be a better way to balance them than the system that’s in place right now.
Danielle Cooper, for example, is still waiting – two years after her husband suffered severe brain damage at his workplace, a tire shop in Rawlins – to learn whether his employer was at fault. She and their daughters don’t know why his employer was fined. They also don’t know the results of a Wyoming Occupational Health and Safety Administration investigation into the incident or whose fault it was that the tire blew up.
That will remain true as long as the case stays open. Sometimes that means the case is waiting for a resolution. Sometimes it means parties in the case have asked for more time to provide more information. Other times it means waiting for someone to make a payment.
For the Cooper family, it means there is no end in sight.
That’s unacceptable. When Wyoming workers are injured, their families need answers. The state often has one of the highest rates of workplace deaths because of the number of risky jobs in the energy industry, but that’s no excuse. Whether it happens on a rig or on the relatively safer turf of a tire shop, these cases must be closed in a timely manner.
Wyoming OSHA must impose deadlines. It’s not held to timelines now, so it must choose to put internal time limits in place soon, then ensure they are met and that families have recourse in the event that they are not.
To their credit, state OSHA investigators agree that families shouldn’t have to wait any longer than necessary, and they say they plan to address the problem.
“This is absolutely in motion in our current efforts,” John Ysebaert, Wyoming’s workforce standards and compliance administrator, told the Star-Tribune last month.
It’s encouraging to know that the division is developing a deadline schedule, working with its federal counterpart to become more efficient and working with a collections agency to speed payments so cases can be closed faster.
The division has also demonstrated it’s capable of delivering answers in a reasonable time limit: When a rig worker was killed in a fall in mid-July, the report on that incident was ready by late September. The agency also says it has been contending with significant turnover and record-keeping changes that have slowed investigations.
OSHA’s sympathy and desire for change is laudable, but this is a problem, and it must be fixed now. Grieving family members deserve better than to be left in the dark. They have been through too much already. To ask them to wait years for answers on something that changed their lives forever is just too much. They need closure, and they need it as soon as possible.