Widow recounts husband’s tragic rig death
Lost workers remembered; promises made to living
Workforce Services announces hiring of new OSHA staffers
Chris “CJ” Moss, father of a toddler son and husband to his high school sweetheart, missed Valentine’s Day in 2007 but four days later phoned his wife Natalie to confirm he’d be home the next day after completing his shift.
He never made it. CJ was killed on a Wyoming drilling rig on Feb. 19, 2007. He became one of 622 people killed on the job in the state since 1992. (Here are the names of 209 of those workers, an incomplete list.)
“The day that C.J. was killed, someone made a decision to put profits and production above his safety,” Natalie Moss, widow of Chris “CJ” Moss, told about 30 people gathered Friday morning in Casper to commemorate Workers Memorial Day.
She does not believe the supervisor on the rig where Moss was working thought her husband would be killed. CJ was unaware of the danger when he was sent to clean an area where a fire had recently burned and some electrical wires had been damaged, Natalie said.
“I do know they sent him in there knowing they were putting him in a dangerous situation … in the mind of that person, the risk of safety violations were not as threatening as lost production or profits,” she said.
Her husband was electrocuted. Killed instantly. Their son, just four years old at the time, will not have a memory of CJ’s deep laugh, a laugh far more entertaining to Natalie than the funny movies they attended together. Her husband loved their son. Natalie said his birth transformed CJ “from perfect husband to perfect father.”
Natalie Moss drove 400 miles from Menan, Idaho to help remember CJ and other workers killed on the job in Wyoming. Workers Memorial Day is observed around the world every year in late April to remember workers killed and injured on the job. Friday’s event in Casper attracted state agency representatives, workers, and retired workers.
Moss made the long trip to give a survivor’s account of what happens to a family when someone does not return home safely from a shift, and to support efforts to make going to work safer in Wyoming.
The state’s abysmal worker fatality rate has driven recent efforts to build a stronger safety culture in the state. After Wyoming again recorded the worst fatality rate in the nation in 2008, Gov. Dave Freudenthal created a safety task force that recommended hiring a state epidemiologist. After 18 months, the epidemiologist produced statistics revealing that over the past 10 years, a Wyoming worker has died on the job every 10 days.
Gov. Matt Mead made those findings public in January, Mead’s press secretary Renny MacKay attended Friday’s event and read a letter from the governor.
“We are all proud of Wyoming – our people, our geography and our industries – but the rate of workplace fatalities Is unacceptable,” the governor wrote. “ … and it is time to put it under the microscope.”
Wyoming State AFL-CIO Executive Secretary Kim Floyd celebrated passage of legislation during the recent budget session that expands OSHA and provides a half-million dollars for matching grants of up to $10,000 to help Wyoming businesses establish or improve their safety programs. He also told the commemoration attendees that workers themselves, not just employers, have a responsibility to ensure the safety of a job site and to speak up when they see a hazard that could hurt someone.
John Ysebaert, director of the Office of Workforce Standards & Compliance in Wyoming’s Department of Workforce Services announced that the seven new safety consultants already have been hired under the new law. He said the applicants were unusually well-qualified but said the department focused on each applicant’s “passion for safety.”
Sen. John Hastert drove from Green River early Friday morning to attend the Workers Memorial Day event. Like others, he praised the recent progress, but emphasized the importance of electing legislators committed to ensuring the safety of Wyoming’s workers. State agencies, he said, work with the tools the legislature gives them through statute. It’s a grave responsibility for policymakers and Hastert urged attendees to ask legislative candidates where they stand on worker safety and hold them accountable for their positions.
While celebrating the progress made in the Legislature last session, Hastert echoed comments by Floyd that the state also must consider stronger enforcement of existing safety and health laws. That means fining offenders. Threat of a hefty fine changes behavior, he said. Drivers slow down, he said, when they know police are on the highways enforcing the law.
“Getting these people back to their families safely after each shift should be a priority of every employer,” Natalie Moss said. It also should be the priority of every worker and of state policymakers who have the power to require everyone on a job site to make it as safe and as healthy a place to work as possible.
Editor’s note: Additional copy and two links were added to this post on April 30.