Bells toll at 2014 Workers Memorial Day commemoration

Photo of Workers Memorial Day commemoration in Cheyenne.

Aapril 28, 2014 Sarah Kellogg of SAFER reads names of workers killed on the job in recent months to people attending the annual Workers Memorial Day commemoration in the Capitol rotunda. Pastor Karen O’Malia tolls a bell for each name.

Felled workers remembered at Capitol ceremony

Advocates call for tougher penalties, more inspectors at OSHA

In 2012, Wyoming saw the number of people killed on the job rise to a disturbing five-year high when 35 workers died. Those 35 workers were remembered when Christ Lutheran Church Pastor Karen O’Malia rang a bell 35 times at the Wyoming commemoration of Workers’ Memorial Day on Monday, April 28. The tolling of the bell reverberated through the Capitol rotunda. In conjunction with Workers Memorial Day, the Wyoming Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (WyCOSH) released a new report that illustrates the devastating effects workplace deaths have on families. The report features two stories of fathers whose sons were killed on the job. Titled “Preventable Deaths: Safety & Health in Wyoming,” the report also presents a list of 12 steps that state policy-makers and employers themselves should take to reduce and ultimately end the loss of life and serious injury in Wyoming workplaces. Those steps include recommendations for reducing health hazards at job sites and medical monitoring so workers do not develop chronic diseases over their careers due to exposure to silica or dangerous chemicals. Without strenuous efforts, more families will be left in the position of Ed Simmons, a Casper carpenter whose son Anthony died in a fall while working at Teton Homes just west of Casper on April 10, 2013. “You know, you just want to lay down and die,” Simmons says in the report. Simmons was slated to be among the speakers at the Wyoming commemoration of Workers’ Memorial Day. But feeling the pain of the one-year anniversary of his son’s death and disappointed by a state report on the circumstances surrounding it, he decided that speaking out would not help other workers. “I wish I could believe I could make a difference, but I don’t,” he wrote in a text message to Kerry Drake, a Casper writer who worked on the WyCOSH report. Mark Aronowitz, an attorney with the Spence Association for Employee Rights, took the podium on Mr. Simmons’ behalf and told his story. And he respectfully disagreed with Ed Simmons’ assessment that his efforts cannot help to change the safety culture in Wyoming. Aronowitz noted that progress has been made in recent years because workers spoke up and demanded the attention of state policy-makers. The story of Ed Simmons and his son Anthony puts a human face on the statistics of fatality rates and injuries on the job. During the ceremony, representatives of six families rose to mark the death of one of their loved ones at a Wyoming job site. They provided very moving moments as the held up photos and noted the date of death, and noted comments like, “We miss him every day,” or “He was 65 and died two weeks before his retirement. Those named and date of death: Roger Ifland……………………………………..Aug. 10, 1981 Ashley Dawn Woodcock………………….Sept. 25, 2007 Nathan Vassallo-Perez…………………….May 5, 2011 David Morgan……………………………………Aug. 16, 2012 Jacob Dowdy…………………………………….Aug. 16, 2013 Chris Stassinos…………………………………Oct. 6, 2013 Wyoming State AFL-CIO Executive Secretary Kim Floyd offered condolences to the family present, then went on to tick off state and national injury, illness and fatality statistics that help  illustrate the problem. “It’s frustrating sometimes for us to address the issue of worker safety in Wyoming as we stand her today and observe Workers Memorial Day. Those of us involved in the effort to make employees safer at their workplaces haven’t seen the results we’re hoping to achieve.” He noted that Wyoming OSHA at its current staffing capacity would need 105 years to inspect every workplace in the state. And he argued that companies have publicly stated that stiffer penalties for safety law violations are needed. Floyd acknowledged the leadership of the Department of Workforce Services and their partnership with advocates in reaching Wyoming’s safety goals. “But I’m also here to tell them that we have more to do.” Wyoming experienced 33 workplace fatalities in 2008, 19 in 2009, 34 in 2010, 29 in 2011 – and 35 in 2012, federal statistics released in April 2014 show. This five-year high comes despite efforts by the Wyoming Legislature to entice employers with a grant program aimed at helping them build their company safety programs and an expanded courtesy inspection program. New data made available since the report went to press shows that Wyoming’s workplace fatality rate climbed to 12.2 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2012, up from 11.6 in 2011. The rate is more than three times higher than the national rate of 3.2. (The report includes a chart comparing Wyoming’s fatality rate to the national rate from 2006-2011 on Page 7.) The report includes state epidemiologist Mack Sewell’s assessment of progress made to change Wyoming’s poor culture of safety in the workplace. A story about recent fines imposed on the Sinclair Refinery in Sinclair, Wyoming, points out the importance of enforcement of safety laws and the need to assess fines when companies endanger workers. The fines levied against Sinclair have been a key to convincing its management of the need to abide by safety laws and provide the safe work environment that is every worker’s right. Finally, the report credits the state’s nation-leading efforts to reform drilling rules. Revisions to the state’s Special Well Servicing rules will provide an opportunity for OSHA to develop measures to protect people working in the oil patch from dangerous exposures to silica dust. Those exposures can lead to silicosis and other lung diseases, cancer and kidney problems. You can see the Bureau of Labor Statistics state fatality and injury data here: The Workers Memorial Day commemoration attracted considerable news coverage. You can read or see coverage of the event at these media websites: Channel 5 – KWGN, Cheyenne Casper Star-Tribune Wyoming Public Media Public News Service KGAB AM 650, Cheyenne Here are links to a video fo the 2014 Workers Memorial Day commemoration produced by Coleen Haines of the Wyoming Education Association. Part 1 Pastor Karen O’Mailia opening prayer; Mark Aronowitz speaks for Ed Simmons; families take podium to name their last loved ones. Sarah Kellogg reads list of names of those known to be killed in the past 18 months and remembers the Unknown Work. O’Malia tolls bell. Part 2 Marcia Shanor notes new WyCOSH report. AFL-CIO’s Kim Floyd acknowledges work already done, points to need for greater efforts. Part 3 Judge Gary Hartman reads letter from Gov. Matt Mead; Department of Workforce Services Joan Evans discusses recent effots to improve workplace safety. Part 4 Rep. Don Burkhart of Rawlins calls for tougher penalities. Rep. Mary Throne, minority leader in the Wyoming House from Cheyenne, calls on state to place a higher value on the workers who have built the state. Part 5 Rep. Lee Filer of Cheyenne announces plans to file legislation to establish an official state holiday for Wyoming’s Workers Memorial Day. Closing prayer from Pastor O’Malia.  

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