Deadly Workplaces

State Occupational Epidemiologist Timothy Ryan, the man hired a little more than a year ago to analyze Wyoming’s long-standing workplace fatality problem, has resigned to take a job “in the private sector,” according Renny MacKay, spokesman for Gov. Matt Mead.

Ryan declined to comment on his resignation, and Mead was unavailable for comment. MacKay indicated that the state would seek a replacement for Ryan and that the position would be moved from the governor’s office to the Department of Workforce Services.

Ryan submitted his resignation just before the Christmas holiday, about the same time he submitted to the governor his first formal set of recommendations for reducing the rate at which Wyoming workers are killed on the job. For the past 10 years Wyoming’s workplace fatality rate has been either the worst or among the worst in the nation. Workplace fatalities peaked in 2007 at 17 per 100,000 workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Dustin Bleizeffer

Ryan had said he’d deliver his recommendations to the governor by the end of October, and indicated that they would not include any proposed legislation, such as tougher seatbelt laws or stiffer penalties for violations leading to a workplace death.

MacKay said the governor’s office will release Ryan’s recommendations to the public on Tuesday (Jan. 3), the same day Gov. Mead will have a chance to review them for the first time.

“We don’t have any comments yet, from the governor on it,” MacKay told WyoFile this week, adding that Mead is unavailable until Tuesday.

Ryan was hired in late 2010 at the recommendation of a statewide task force after it found there were major gaps in data related workplace fatalities. His position was funded for two years, and was based in the governor’s office.

Part of Ryan’s charge, based on the task force’s recommendations, was to compile a database of workplace fatality information for the primary purpose of analysis. He gathered data from dozens of entities that don’t commonly share information related to workplace fatalities, such as sheriffs’ offices and the Wyoming Department of Transportation. He also wrangled with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for its resistance to provide state-specific data.

This rig was drilling a horizontal oil well near the Black Thunder mine in southern Campbell County in the summer of 2011. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile - click to enlarge)

Ryan worked closely with the Wyoming Oil and Gas Industry Safety Alliance (WOGISA), which formally partnered with the Wyoming Occupational Safety and Health Administration earlier this year to implement “best practices.” While the common goal among the groups is to share best practices and reduce workplace fatalities and injuries, they have also shared the same goal of not placing any extra liability on employers, even for their own proven negligence.

WOGISA organizer Bonnie Foster told WyoFile this week that Ryan has been a tremendous resource for the group and its efforts.

“I was surprised, and also very disappointed (at news of his departure) because I personally really like him and I know he’s been trying to work at this … and I know it’s been an uphill battle,” Foster said, referring to getting information from entities that resist.

Foster said her group is eager to see Ryan’s recommendations as soon as possible, because WOGISA meets on January 10 in Casper to plan its next moves.

In October, Ryan shared some of his data and analysis with WOGISA and other members of the public. He found that from 2001 to 2008, there were 62 workplace fatalities in Wyoming’s oil and gas industry alone, plus three more fatalities specifically related to highway transportation in the industry. That’s an average of one worker killed every 45 days — just in oil and gas.

Ryan had said 52 percent of those fatalities occurred on drilling rig locations (most the result of a worker falling, or being hit, crushed or entangled). In 98 percent of the falls, there was no fall safety equipment in use. Driver fatigue and not wearing seatbelts was prevalent and deadly in Wyoming’s oil and gas industry during the from 2001 to 2008 period — the most recent data available.

Fatigue was specifically cited as the cause for deadly vehicle accidents in the oil and gas industry in more than 70 percent of the cases. Only 4 percent of deadly oil and gas vehicle accidents were attributed to weather. “Weather is not a major issue in the (on-the-job) motor vehicle fatalities,” said Ryan.

— Contact Dustin Bleizeffer at (307) 577-6069 or dustin@wyofile.com.

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Published on December 30, 2011

  • Sparky the Welder

    If the Wyoming government was serious about lowering workplace injuries and fatalities, which it’s not, they need to end the resistance and even hatred of unions and union members. Unions bring more than good pay and benefits to union members, they bring safety on the job.

    I always get a laugh when I read about the Wyoming Business Council trying to figure out why high school and college graduates from Wyoming grab their diplomas along with a road map and head out of Wyoming as fast as their cars will take them. Who wants to get killed or maimed on the job while being treated as something less than human.

  • Inky

    Everytime I hear a conservative politician rail about job-killing regulations, I wonder why they don’t get less generic and more specific.
    WHAT regs do they want to cut? Here’s where it gets sticky, because regulations often save lives of workers, or keep toxins out of our air and water.
    Obviously, Wyoming could do better, but how can it with such resistance from industry and lack of accountability? The mindset of profit over people means that more people will die and get maimed. Next time you meet someone who has lost a loved one in an industrial accident, ask them whether regulations should be stronger or weaker, knowing that stronger regs save lives and weaker ones sacrifice lives for the bottom line.

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