Deadly Workplaces

Report: Wyoming lacks ‘culture of safety’

To address Wyoming’s long-standing distinction as among the deadliest states in the nation for workers, state and industry officials must work cooperatively to create a “culture of safety,” according to the Wyoming Occupational Epidemiologist Timothy Ryan.

“Over the last year I have analyzed 17 years of occupational fatality data (1992-2008), read through fatality case reports, and have spoken with hundreds of employees working for various sized companies in the major industries in Wyoming. The Nature of the Problem in Wyoming: The common theme throughout is the lack of a ‘culture of safety’ in Wyoming,” Ryan wrote in a December 19 “interoffice memorandum” to Gov. Matt Mead.

Click here for the full 9-page report, which was released to the public for the first time late Tuesday morning.

A total of 369 workers died on the job in Wyoming from 2001 through 2010, creating a per 100,000 workers annual fatality rate that ranked Wyoming either the worst or second-worst in the nation for a decade — with the exception of 2009 when Wyoming ranked fourth deadliest. Several legislative measures have been proposed in recent years to persuade safer practices, such as tougher seatbelt laws, holding operators accountable for their own proven negligence and raising fines for safety violations that lead to the death of a worker.

None of the bills passed.

Ryan, who submitted his resignation along with his recommendations report last month, didn’t list any of those legislative measures as part of a strategy to make Wyoming’s workplaces less deadly.

Bill Adams of Jackson Electric Inc. operates a trackhoe at a construction site in Casper. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile - click to enlarge)

Instead, he recommends the state and industry continue to cooperate in a recent effort to identify and implement best industry practices, particularly in Wyoming’s oil and natural gas fields. He said the state should also promote the use of free “courtesy inspections,” which have long been a service provided by the Wyoming Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The purpose of a courtesy inspection is to identify hazards and get professional advice on how to come into compliance with safety standards. A company that requests a courtesy inspection from Wyoming OSHA is essentially promised that no citations will be issued as a result of the inspection. Yet, fewer than 2 percent of Wyoming’s workplaces request a courtesy inspection, according to Ryan’s report.

Even at that rate, Wyoming OSHA officials have said they are so short-staffed that it can still take months for OSHA to respond to a request for a courtesy inspection.

Ryan’s recommendations also include the continuation of his effort to create a central database for information related to workplace fatalities, which should be easily accessed for analysis. The focus of all these efforts should be on Wyoming’s “high risk” industries, which Ryan lists as “oil and gas, transportation and construction,” he wrote.

Gov. Mead issued a prepared statement Tuesday afternoon, promising that the state would continue its focus on understanding and improving workplace safety.

“I believe that we must find ways to get workers in Wyoming home safely at the end of the day,” Mead said. “These recommendations are a first step on the path to making every workplace safer. They do not provide a solution but show that some systemic changes need to be made. They also indicate we still have work to do to further evaluate and make progress in workplace safety.”

Mead reiterated his intention to hire another state occupational epidemiologist to replace Ryan, and move the position to the Department of Workforce Services.

“I am committed to this effort and want the position to continue with the objective of reducing workplace fatalities and injuries,” Mead said.

FROM THE REPORT:

Nature of the Problem

— There is a breakdown in communication between the upper management, supervisors, and employees regarding safety.

— “Often the safety training that we receive is not enforced on the worksite.”

— Employees are told to “get the job done” and safety protocol and rules are not enforced, resulting in injuries and fatalities.

— On any one job-site, there can be a wide range in the safety standards.

Recommendations:

— Organize and develop continuity of ongoing efforts.

— Develop data monitoring system for the collection and timely analysis of occupational data.

— Promote OSHA courtesy inspections.

— Support efforts by industry to develop, monitor and enforce safety standards and practices.

 

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

REPUBLISH THIS STORY: For details on how you can republish this story or other WyoFile content for free, click here.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to see more quality Wyoming journalism, please consider supporting WyoFile: a non-partisan, non-profit news organization dedicated to in-depth reporting on Wyoming’s people, places and policy.

Print Friendly

Published on January 30, 2012

  • urself

    The bigger issue here is employers safety spending resources equavalent to the hazards in their industry. It might take a lot of $ and a lot of time to develop a world class safety culture but large companies with hazardous operations have done it. In an industry like mining or construction that have some of the riskiest activities out there, it would simply take a larger commitment to protect employees. This is a commitment mining thinks is too expensive to make and it’s employees have simply raised their risk tolerance and accepted it. In the example given above “Training, communication, lack of field presence among supervisors” were given as causes of a fatality. Could that location have employed more supervisors and done more training? Of course. Barrick GS has the impression they are elite because are simply head and shoulders above mines that are still 100 years behind the way other responsible employers address hazards. Many of their properties have horrendous safety records and cultures.
    As far as people being the cause of all accidents, it sounds like the author of the above post might be part of the problem and not the solution ” I have participated in COUNTLESS inspections, OSHA and MSHA and watched inspectors walk by hazards that would kill someone, missed critical human behaviors that were risky” This means he KNEW there were potentially fatal conditions that went uncorrected in his workplace and he wants to preach about people being accountable for their actions, hmmm. Thorough, uncompromising cultures retrain people not to take the risk and identify/remove those who will not accept a safe way of doing things.

    People being treated as disposable as DeweyV mentions IS reality and the education that needs to be done is teaching people which industries and which employers are committed to a healthy safety culture and which are NOT. They can then make educated decisions about how much $ their life is worth before they spend a half of that lifetime gaining experience in a career that might kill them.

  • Lance

    Although the numbers might speak to Wyoming being the worst, the ‘Nature of the problem issues” as described by Ryan are really no different than any place I’ve ever worked, in any state. They are the same reasons listed on virtually every fatality report I have read or helped to complete. Even in the top tier companies I have worked for, with the strongest ‘safety culture’ struggle with the very same issues. The real common thread? People, human nature and freewill. It isn’t a Wyoming problem, it’s a people problem in every industry. Whether one dies, or 100 die, isn’t the issue, someone still died. When I worked for Barrick, who I considered to be A+++ in safety, we had a fatality while I was there. Our numbers (lagging indicators) may have said we were top notch, the family of that one person tells a different story. The relative causes identified? Training, communication, lack of field presence among supervisors. The root cause? He made a personal decision to not wear the fall protection he was issued properly and fell to his death. That you will NEVER see on a fatality report because the regulators focus on conditions, not behavior. What control do we put in place to combat human nature? It’s so much deeper than communication and training, it’s psychological. It’s the risk versus gain for every single person in the workforce. The same risks they take at home every day, many times over, but when they are killed at home because they climbed too high on a ladder, the same ladder they received training for at work, it’s simply makes the obituary column as died in an unfortunate ‘accident’ at home. The same risk everyone of us took in the last 7 days when we answered that call while driving our personal vehicle to talk about what the kids did in school today or what is for dinner. While I will always agree that the things identified in the article will always be positive and on the ‘must do’ list for all employers, they will not stop fatalities. Personal choice makes or stops and injury. I have been through courtesy inspections, and like it or not, they are dependent on the person running them. While they are a good first step and add some value, even those are very limited in their effectiveness. I have participated in COUNTLESS inspections, OSHA and MSHA and watched inspectors walk by hazards that would kill someone, missed critical human behaviors that were risky and all the while focusing on the cord or fire extinguisher that missed last month’s inspection. No condition ever killed a person or injured them, it takes a PERSON to create a condition and an action to realize harm from it, those are behaviors. Yes, we need processes in place and good policies and quality training. Even more so we need to better understand why human beings choose to take risks and the psychological effect of getting away with standing on the chair at home to change the light bulb. That person comes to my jobsite every day with that mental reinforcement and no policy, no training, no process will force him to make the right decision in that critical moment. When no one is watching and it’s two in the morning and he has a task to do, he will revert to the instinct he developed standing on that unstable chair in the kitchen and never getting hurt while doing it. And that is why I go to work every day. Employers bear a great deal of responsibility, as they should. Unfortunately, the employee bears none and until that changes even the best companies will suffer serious injuries and fatalities. This is a combined problem and will take an effort from employees to always choose the safe behavior and the employer to do everything to empower the employee to do so.

  • DeweyV

    In Wyoming 30 years ago , especially in the oil patch or the gas field ( I can’t speak to coal mines) , I’ve always observed that too often the worker was just another tool to be used and discarded. The lower that worker’s pay or skills, the more likely he/she/it would be used and summarily dispensed with. That was during the last oil boom and before OSHA had become ubiquitous. It was cavalier; reckless. But wholly a custom — culture thing. It came with the job.

    I guess my only question is how prevalent that bullheaded attitude is today. What’s changed ? Anything ??

Previous post:

Next post: