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.

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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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