Wyoming now has a roadmap for dealing with its high rate of deaths on the job. And the roadmap directly involves highways themselves, specifically the number of workers who die on them.
The state took an important step toward addressing workplace fatalities by figuring out how they happened. Conducting a survey may not sound earth-shattering, but the newly released figures by state epidemiologist Mack Sewell finally shed some light on a death toll that has been disturbing.
The most alarming fact: The state’s ratio of workplace-related deaths was the highest in the nation on five occasions between 2001 and 2010.
Sewell’s predecessor in the job gave up in 2011, saying that the state didn’t have a culture of safety.
Whether his resignation was the motivation, or the fact that Wyoming’s incidence of death on the job per 100,000 full-time workers was 11.6 in 2011, more than triple the national average of 3.5, legislators have taken some steps since 2011.
Doubling the number of additional safety consultants and setting up a $500,000 fund to help companies pay for safety equipment and training are new efforts. It’s too early to get a clear picture of their results.
The in-depth study by Sewell is the third step in the Legislature’s effort to reduce workplace deaths.
What we learned from the report on how each of the 31 people killed on the job in 2012 died is that traveling is a danger factor for Wyoming workers. More than half of the deaths — 16 of 31 — were related to transportation. Most startling is the fact that 13 of the 16 transportation deaths involved out-of-state motorists.
Sewell concluded that Wyoming has a unique combination of risk factors, not the least of which are climate and geography in addition to the more obvious dominance
of high-risk industries. Nearly
40 percent of workers in Wyoming work in high-risk industries such as construction, agriculture and oil and gas. It’s the highest percentage in the nation.
But before anyone concludes that the deaths are inevitable because of already-dangerous jobs, icy roads and long commutes, we urge that legislators and the governor take the information they paid for and address it in detail.
Department of Workforce Services (DWS) Director Joan Evans has emphasized the need for new safety procedures. She specifically mentioned that the state may need to install more signs and required stops to help reduce the transportation fatalities. Evans made it clear earlier this year that she plans to use the results of Sewell’s survey to make serious progress in workplace safety.
Evans is right that steps must be taken, but it’s hard to agree with her statement that, “We have made tremendous progress.” It’s far too early to know if the fund to help companies invest in safety and the extra inspectors are making a difference in the workplace.
But it’s not too early to insist that, armed with the facts about each and every workplace death, Wyoming deserves to see concrete and aggressive proposals coming from the governor, the DWS and the Legislature.
Wyoming is proud of its work ethic and its hard-working people. It is not acceptable for them to also be the workers who are most at risk when they go to work each day.
We’ve got the facts; now let’s see the solutions.