Archive | April, 2013

Workers Memorial Day

State remembers workers killed on the job

Stronger OSHA enforcement urged by state & national advocates

More than 4,600 workers were killed on the job in the United States in 2011 – the latest year for which complete data is available, and in Wyoming, 29 workers were killed on the job that year.

Kathy Morgan holds a photo of her deceased husband David. Morgan talked about the impact of a job-related death on families and their communities.

An analysis by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) found Wyoming had the worst rate of worker fatalities in the country from 2005-10 and that its 6-year average was at least double the average fatality rate in all but eight other states. The state’s fatality rate in 2011 was second worst in the U.S., trailing only North Dakota. The number of job deaths in Wyoming dropped in 2012. State officials report that 23 workers were killed in events in Wyoming’s oil and gas fields, on construction sites, highways, and on its ranches.

A Wyoming commemoration of Workers Memorial Day April 29 featured the widow of a Casper man who was killed while working in a warehouse last summer. Kathy Morgan wants people to know that job deaths bring loss “not to just our families” but also “to our communities and our state.”

David Morgan was killed on the job in August 2012 when he was crushed by a 4,000-pound storage container that contained gasoline additives at a Baker Hughes building. He had been only weeks away from his retirement. Ed Simmons asked to speak near the end of the event. Simmons is the father of Anthony Simmons, who was killed while working at

Ed Simmons

Teton Homes in Casper on April 10. Simmons demanded to know why OSHA and state politicians don’t do more to assure safety on the job. His son, he said, was not trained to be doing the work he was doing when he was killed.

Other speakers included Riverton attorney and former mayor John Vincent, long an advocate for safety in the oil and gas patch; John Ysebaert, administrator of the Department of Workforce Services Office of Standards and Compliance; Mark Aronowitz, an attorney for SAFER, the Spence Association for Employee Rights; and two state legislators, Rep. Don Burkhart of Rawlins, and Sen. John Hastert of Green River. Gov. Matt Mead supported the event with a lettercalling for more to be done.

The ESPC believes there is much to be done to ensure that Wyoming workers return safe and whole from every shift. The state has hired more inspectors, but still has just nine compliance inspectors to monitor thousands of job sites. The Mine Health and Safety Administration has nearly six times that number of inspectors to ensure safety in Wyoming’s coal, trona, and other mines.

Efforts to make the oil patch safer are hampered because state inspectors don’t know where drilling rigs are operating. Those inspectors could do more if the state required drilling companies to report when they move to a new well location and begin drilling. At present, there’s no central reporting point to inform state inspectors exactly where drilling rigs are making holes. Reporting a GPS location to OSHA when drilling starts and when a drilling company departs a completed well would provide that information.

The National COSH released its report, “Preventable Deaths: The Tragedy of Workplace Fatalities,” April 23 as part of Workers Memorial Week.

“Each worker killed is a tragic loss to the community of family, friends and co-workers – and the worst part is, these deaths were largely preventable,” Tom O’Connor, executive director of National COSH, said when the report was released.

“Simply by following proven safety practices and complying with OSHA standards, many of these more than 4,600 deaths could have been avoided. But as companies decry regulations and emphasize profits over safety, workers pay the ultimate price.”

The National COSH report points to the following reforms that are needed:

  • State legislation to implement minimum penalty amounts for serious safety citations related to workplace fatalities, which can be modeled after Minnesota’s legislation that requires its state OSHA program to levy fines of no less than $25,000 for every serious violation and, in cases involving repeat or willful violations, no less than $50,000.

  • Meaningful immigration reform, which would bring undocumented workers out of the shadows and give them protections afforded to all workers.

  • A stronger Occupational Safety and Health Act, which would make felony charges possible when repeat or willful violations result in a worker’s death or serious injury, and would increase the penalties OSHA can impose on negligent employers.

  • An Injury and Illness Prevention Standard, which would require employers to find and fix health and safety hazards in the workplace.

  • States should examine health impacts from silica dust during hydraulic fracturing and consider possible state regulations.

  • And many other reforms reviewed in the report.

Wyoming Workers Memorial Day is sponsored by the Wyoming State AFL-CIO, the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association, the Spence Association for Employee Rights (SAFER), and a new project of the Equality State Policy Center, the Wyoming Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health: WyCOSH.

Visit www.workersmemorialweek.org for more information.

Here is the Public News Service coverage of the event. This post was updated following the Wyoming Workers Memorial Day event Monday morning, April 29. News Service link was added June 12.  
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Workers’ Compensation – legislators

Wyo legislators deserve Workers’ Compensation

Insurance coverage can prevent family economic disaster

Sens. Drew Perkins, left, and Ray Peterson on the floor of the state Senate.

Wyoming legislators deserve Workers Compensation coverage when they drive across the far-flung reaches of Wyoming to attend committee meetings around the state and while serving in legislative sessions in Cheyenne. The coverage will cost little. It simply insures that if a citizen legislator suffers an injury, he or she will get the medical care they need to enable them to return to work as quickly as possible. Wage benefits coverage means the legislator’s family may be able to avoid dire economic losses because of an injury suffered while on official legislative business. If the legislator’s injuries result in death, Workers Comp benefits may help surviving family members avoid bankruptcy while they scramble to replace income lost as a result of a fatality. Never happen, you say? We know at least one legislator was killed while traveling. In 1971, Rep. Nancy Wallace, a Uinta County Republican, died in a crash while driving home from Cheyenne. Unfortunately, the Star-Tribune has chosen to attack the idea. The ESPC and the League of Women Voters suggested a study by the Legislature’s Management Council after it learned of the economic troubles faced by Rock Springs Rep. Steve Watt after he fell at a legislative training session last December and was taken to the local hospital by ambulance. Watt had no personal medical insurance to cover the medical costs.

Rep. Steve Watt

But that didn’t stop the Star-Tribune from attacking Watt personally in an attempt to discredit the idea. “ … Rep. Steve Watt miscalculated a sneaky chair that slipped out from under him. Will the state cover the rest of us who fell off our chairs laughing when we read about the idea?” the CST wrote in its March 23rd Cheers and Jeers section. Sometimes, Steve Watt does have a difficult time sitting and walking. Sometimes the former Wyoming Highway Patrolman must use a wheelchair because of the injuries he suffered when he was shot five times by a bank robber during a 1982 traffic stop in Sweetwater County. One of the bullets remains in his body, near his spine, more than 30 years later. Providing Workers Compensation coverage to legislators is not a radical idea. Others states already do. For instance, “employee” is defined under Connecticut’s Workers’ Compensation Act to include any person who “is elected to serve as a member of the General Assembly of this state.” See: CSG 31-277 No matter if the legislator is part time or full time, if a legislator is collecting a salary and is otherwise on the state’s “payroll,” she should be eligible to be covered by Workers’ Compensation while providing services to the state. The cost of ensuring Wyoming legislators would be low, just over $300 a year per legislator, according to initial estimates provided by the Department of Workforce Services. When a state legislator like Rep. Watt does incur an injury on the job, justice dictates that we provide him fair and equal treatment in consideration of his injuries. These civil servants should be afforded the same protection as other state employees – many of whom also have families to support whether they are healthy or otherwise. Workers’ Compensation exists to provide the medical care an injured worker needs to get back to his or her job after an injury. It means a family suddenly deprived of a primary breadwinner has decent support from the Workers Compensation fund. In return, employers know they face no civil liability for ordinary or even willful negligence. The insurance policy buys them protection, too. That’s the promise of Workers’ Compensation in the private market. It protects both parties to the contract. We urge the Management Council to give the idea careful consideration.   (ESPC op-ed on this proposal was published April 5, 2013 in the Casper Star-Tribune.)  
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