Wyoming Judiciary Committee Rejects Workplace Safety Bill

November 19, 2009

Members of Wyoming’s Joint Judiciary Committee have voted down a measure that would have increased liability for oil and gas operators whose employees are injured in workplace accidents.

Proponents of the bill, known as “duty of care,” said it would help make Wyoming’s workplaces safer. But opponents said it would increase lawsuits without boosting safety.

Under the proposal, owners of work sites would owe a duty of reasonable care to employees of independent contractors _ even when they are injured doing the work the contractor was hired to perform.

The committee voted against the measure on Monday.

“We feel it would make the workplace less safe,” said Bruce Hinchey, president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming.

Hinchey said he feared that by encouraging subcontractors to participate in the operator’s safety programs, the operator would be more exposed to liability if subcontractor employees get hurt.

But proponents said that liability already exists. The purpose of striking the “pervasive” pretrial test would be simply to make the courts available to injured workers and their families.

Once a case goes to trial, a worker would still have to prove that the operator breached his duty of care, and that the breach was the cause of the death or injury.

“Where does that leave our citizens? Without a recourse in the courts,” said Sen. Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne. “I can’t get past Wyoming being the Equality State when we don’t have the right for a worker to seek redress in court.”

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