CASPER, Wyo. — Representatives of Wyoming’s oil and natural gas industry lauded the value of a scathing state report that said most industry workers who die do so in a work environment in which safety is an afterthought.
Nearly all Wyoming’s oil and gas industry deaths were due to a failure to follow existing safety procedures, state occupation epidemiologist Timothy Ryan said in a memo last month to Gov. Matt Mead.
Ignored safety rules correlated with 96 percent of the 62 deaths in Wyoming’s petroleum industry from 2001-08, when objects struck or crushed 16 of 32 workers killed on drilling rigs. Additionally, 17 of the 25 oil and gas workers killed in vehicle accidents weren’t wearing seat belts.
Wyoming’s overall workplace death rate was more than 3.5 times the national average in 2010 and ranked worst in the nation five of the past 10 years.
Ryan reviewed 17 years of incident-level data about Wyoming workplace fatalities. He said the data shows the state lacks a “culture of safety.” He recommended better fatality data collection and sharing and better coordination of safety efforts.
Don Burkhart is chairman of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming’s safety committee and health and safety adviser for BP in Wyoming. He said he’s not sure how oil and natural gas companies that lack what Ryan called a culture of safety can improve their ways.
“I don’t have a good answer for that question, how to address those issues with smaller and medium-sized companies, and even large ones, who don’t get it, or even want to,” he said.
Many oil and natural gas companies in the state do follow safety rules and are working together to improve the industry’s safety practices, Burkhart said. But there are exceptions.
“I think there’s some companies that would take exception to the report because it doesn’t describe them,” he said. “There are other companies of which this is a direct reflection of them.”
Ryan spent a significant amount of time speaking to employees of the state’s major industries, including those active in oil and natural gas, and was granted significant access to prepare his report.
Burkhart supported Ryan’s recommendations and said it’s important for the large oil and natural gas companies to work with small companies to help them improve safety practices.
“There’s no proprietary information when it comes to safety,” he said.
Large firms can refuse to work with small companies that don’t have sufficient safety rules, Burkhart said. But some companies, regardless of size, may not see any reason to change their ways, particularly if the company’s leadership isn’t promoting safety procedures as standard employee practice.
“Some of that goes back to the old attitude of, ‘Well, you got hurt — cowboy up and get back to what you were doing,’” he said. “You aren’t 10 feet tall and bulletproof; things will catch up with you.”
Members of the state’s oil and gas industry formed the Wyoming Oil and Gas Industry Safety Alliance in 2010 to address the industry’s safety problems and high rate of deaths.
Ryan’s report “accurately characterized the issues” and provided key recommendations to solve the industry’s safety problems, the alliance said Wednesday in a media release.
Most companies are good at providing the right equipment, safety training and rules, but more needs to be done, the alliance said.
“We are not where we need to be, but with the help of others we will get closer to our goal of ‘incident-free’ operations in the oil and gas industry,” it said.