CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Wyoming safety regulators have issued 19 citations for an explosion and fire that killed three workers near an oil well last year, an example of the trouble that has plagued a state that consistently records some of the nation's worst workplace fatality rates.
The names of reprimanded companies and the amount of any fines related to the August blast about 40 miles northeast of Casper will be released after recipients have had an opportunity to review the documents, state workplace safety officials said Monday.
Rates of workplace fatalities in Wyoming have ranked among the highest in the U.S. for the past decade, including several years where no other state placed worse. Many of those deaths occur in the state's booming oil and gas industry.
State officials emphasize a collaborative approach with industry leaders to address the problem. The approach can mean more emphasis on voluntary, employer-requested safety inspections over surprise workplace visits by state inspectors, for instance.
James Turner, Llewellyn Dort and Gerardo Alatorre were killed Aug. 29 while installing pipe between two storage tanks and a device called a "heater treater" that is used to separate oil from water. The explosion triggered a fire at the remote oil well site operated by Tulsa, Okla.-based Samson Resources on the rolling prairie that burned 10 acres before it was brought under control.
Turner worked for Double D Welding and Fabrication in Mills. A woman who answered the phone at the company declined to comment Monday. Dort and Alatorre worked for Wild West Construction, a Glenrock company without a listed phone number.
Samson officials did not immediately return a phone message.
State policy prohibits disclosure of details of workplace safety citations until recipients confirm that they have received the documents, Wyoming Department of Workforce Services spokeswoman Hayley Douglass said.
"The citations are a result of Wyoming OSHA's regular enforcement program. Every safety violation within OSHA's jurisdiction is taken very seriously and is thoroughly investigated," Douglass said in a statement.
In December, an epidemiologist hired by the state specifically to look into Wyoming's workplace safety problem issued a report that said Wyoming employers consistently fail to enforce safety rules while telling their employees to just "get the job done."
The epidemiologist, Dr. Timothy Ryan, quit soon after releasing the document.
Last week, Gov. Matt Mead announced he was creating three new positions in the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration to help enforce workplace safety rules. He also said he would ask the Wyoming Legislature to fund five more state OSHA consultants.
Right now, Wyoming has six employees to conduct workplace safety inspections or consultations for 23,000 employers, Mead said in a statement.
"The loss of those three men provided a stark reminder that we need to bring Wyoming workers - fathers, mothers, friends and neighbors - home safely from work," Mead said.
"I hope the Legislature supports my request to strengthen Wyoming OSHA. This is one more step toward making Wyoming a safer place for workers."
The Wyoming state workplace safety office sent the citations by certified mail Thursday.