WyoFile Energy Report

Workers’ Memorial Day in Wyoming

LeRoy Fried was killed on a drilling rig in Wyoming in 2004. He left behind his wife, Cheryl Fried, who — after receiving only $120,000 in workers’ compensation death benefits — had to clean hotel rooms to support herself and her family.

Philip L. Robidoux was killed on the job in 1999 when the brakes failed on the ’78 Mack Super Liner he was driving at the Smith Ranch uranium mine north of Douglas, leaving behind a sister and other family members.

“When we read about workplace fatalities, and talk about it at the legislature, at that point lives have been reduced to statistics and percentage rates. But the profound loss that families have suffered are hardly ever felt or recognized by the rest of us,” said Mark Aronowitz, staff attorney for the Spence Association for Employee Rights (SAFER).

Saturday April 28 is Workers’ Memorial Day — a day set aside to remember the people who have died on the job, and to remember the families they’ve left behind. A remembrance of Wyoming’s fallen workers was held Friday in Casper, organized by SAFER and the Equality State Policy Center (ESPC), whose members include several worker unions.

“We want to take the time to remember that we lost some fellow workers in the last year,” ESPC director Dan Neal said earlier in the week. “It’s worth remembering all those people who died. No one goes off to work thinking they’re going to come home maimed or not come home at all.”

In Wyoming, worker fatalities are often discussed in terms of statistics because the numbers are so outrageous. During the 2000s, one worker died every 10 days, on average, according to a report by former Wyoming state occupational epidemiologist Timothy Ryan.

Just this past fall, nine workers died in Wyoming over a 5-week period.

Employers and legislators alike have admitted that Wyoming’s workplace safety performance is deplorable and intolerable, yet lawmakers have refused to take a hard line against bad actors when it comes to enforcement. For now, Wyoming is taking a “courtesy” approach. Wyoming is adding several state-level inspectors who can respond to voluntary calls by employers, but they will be prohibited from conducting spot inspections or issuing citations for safety violations.

Only one enforcement inspector is being added to the Wyoming Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

For a state that’s on track to lose another 36 workers on the job this year, this is a timid response. This is a crisis that we’ve all known about for the past decade. Workers and their families — Wyoming’s heart and soul — deserve bold, unflinching support from their elected officials. In the meantime, let’s show them the support of their neighbors and communities.

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

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Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 25 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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