Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead announced the state is hiring a veteran public health official from New Mexico to continue the push to reduce Wyoming’s workplace fatality rate.
Dr. C. Mack Sewell, who has served as New Mexico’s state epidemiologist since 1989, will start work in Wyoming in early July.
Sewell, 63, follows Dr. Timothy Ryan, who resigned last winter after submitting a scathing report to Mead. Ryan concluded Wyoming employers consistently fail to enforce safety rules while telling their employees to just “get the job done.”
The overall workplace death rate in Wyoming was more than three-and-a-half times the national average in 2010. It has ranked worst in the nation five of the past 10 years.
Ryan’s report singled out Wyoming’s oil and gas industry, which produces a hefty portion of the state’s revenues.
Ryan’s yearlong review of Wyoming records found that safety rules were commonly ignored in the 62 fatalities in Wyoming’s petroleum industry from 2001-2008. He wrote that objects struck or crushed 16 of 32 workers killed on drilling rigs while 17 of the 25 oil and gas workers killed in vehicle accidents weren’t wearing seat belts.
The Wyoming Legislature, meanwhile, has resisted calls to increase fines for safety violations. The state this year beefed up the ranks of inspectors available to perform voluntary safety evaluations at industry’s request.
Mead said he expects Sewell to continue Ryan’s work. He said Ryan’s work showed the state needs to continue monitoring information about accidents.
Mead said Ryan’s work also showed the difficulty of compiling information about workplace safety. “We need to keep that information up to speed because we want to be reactive to what’s actually going on,” he said.
“In my view, it’s appropriate to have this as a long-term position that continues to look at the data sees where we’re lacking, so we can address that both with training and enforcement as quickly as possible,” Mead said of the epidemiologist position.
Renny MacKay, spokesman for Mead, said Sewell will be paid $110,000 a year.
Sewell said he will be looking at records of Wyoming workplace deaths and injuries.
Sewell said he understands that Mead wants to try to get industry to improve workplace safety voluntarily. “Depending on how that worked, if it didn’t succeed like they wanted it to, then they might have to take a more punitive approach,” he said.