Occupational fatalities in Wyoming decreased 31 percent from 2007 to 2008, the biggest single-year drop since the state Department of Employment started its Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in 1993.
Department senior economist Sara Saulcy attributed the drop to high gasoline prices in 2008. Expensive gas prices reduced driving and prompted people to drive slower, she said.
“It tells us, mainly, there’s a silver lining to high gas prices,” Saulcy said. “Slower driving behavior resulted in fewer accidents.”
The total number of occupational fatalities dropped from 48 in 2007 to 33 in 2008, according to the department’s annual report.
Occupational transportation accident deaths dropped 50 percent from 34 in 2007 to 17 in 2008. But transportation accidents remained the leading cause of workplace deaths, making up more than half of such fatalities in 2008.
The mining industry and the transportation and warehousing industry had the most workplace deaths in 2008, the department said, with each reporting eight deaths.
Kim Floyd, director of Wyoming AFL-CIO, said it’s difficult to explain workplace death numbers because the transportation category is broad.
He said the department’s “transportation” category goes beyond roadway travel to include injuries and fatalities related to natural gas pipeline work, and loading and off-loading materials at construction, mining and oil and gas sites.
“When you look at the category of transportation, it’s really deceiving,” Floyd said. “I don’t think we’re getting a clear picture of where the accidents are really happening.”
The department defines transportation accidents as those involving a vehicle, including industrial vehicles and mobile equipment, during normal operation, regardless of location.
Floyd serves on a workplace safety task force organized by Gov. Dave Freudenthal. The task force has enlisted the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to compile a database of Wyoming’s workplace fatality information for more analysis of the state’s workplace fatality rate.