Wyoming’s workplace death rate dropped last year, but each of the 23 people killed on the job in 2012 has a face and a story. That’s what organizers of Workers Memorial Day wanted to share at their second annual gathering in Casper on Monday as part of a push to improve safety at work.
The “Memorial Day” was intended to both honor those who died and to discuss ways to make Wyoming workplaces safer. There were descriptions of proposed legislation that failed and additions to the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services staff members that have helped businesses monitor safety.
But it was the stories of families mourning their lost loved ones that stood out. Kathy Morgan of Casper held up a picture of her husband, David, who died two weeks before his retirement date in August, killed under a 4,000-pound storage tank after 20 accident-free years of refinery work.
She said it was a major challenge for her to stand in front of a crowd to talk about losing her husband in such a tragic way, but she wanted to lend her voice to “prevent the loss of other workers.” She urged the group to work for solutions.
John Ysebaert, administrator of the Department of Workforce Services Office of Standards and Compliance, described a three-year pattern of declining numbers of workplace deaths in Wyoming. In 2010 there were 36 deaths, in 2011 there were 33 and last year 23.
The 2011 number translated into Wyoming having the second-worst fatality rate in the United States after North Dakota, according to Dan Neal of the Equality State Policy Center, a sponsor of the event.
Ysebaert said that effects are just now being felt of a legislative move to more than double the number of OSHA safety consultants in his department. The additional inspectors are part of a program to respond to industry requests for safety consulting.
“We get a wide variety of requests, from examining a new piece of equipment to responding to an injury so we can provide the extra set of eyes,” he said. Ysebaert added that requests for safety consultations have more than doubled since the increased funding -- from 109 in 2011 to 241 since July. The Department of Workforce Services compliance office also offers $1,000 “safety contracts” for small companies to receive training and equipment.
State Rep. Don Burkhart, R-Rawlins, described the success of House Bill 52 -- a “carrot” to reward employers that participate in the workplace safety contract program. But he added that another proposal to increase the civil penalties for workplace fatalities was “dead on arrival” in the Legislature.
“I think it’s good that we enhanced the OSHA resources, but we need to do more. There are good companies, but some bad actors out there,” said Sen. John Hastert, D-Green River.
Hastert said he hopes the Workers Memorial Day event will spark more interest in workplace safety.
A warning came from speaker Kim Floyd, executive secretary of the Wyoming AFL-CIO. “If a worker wins a lawsuit (for unsafe working conditions), there will be a bill the next year” to make such lawsuits impossible.
He said the Legislature won't act until residents insist something be done about the high fatality rate.
“Let’s be number 50 (in fatalities), so our brothers and sisters come home from work the way they went,” he added.
After the comments from legislators and officials, Ed Simmons stood and asked to talk. His 22-year-old son, Anthony, was killed on April 10 when he fell 10 1/2 feet from the roof of a trailer.
In tears, Simmons said he loved his son, who he believed didn’t have the experience for his job when he was killed.
Neal said the main idea of the event “is to take that fatality rate that we despise and put a face to it. We all lose when they’re killed or maimed.”