Wyoming Hiring Workplace Fatality Epidemiologist

April 14, 2010

Wyoming, which has the worst fatality workplace in the nation, is hiring a full-time epidemiologist, a position that could replace a state task force that has been studying the issue, officials said.

Gov. Dave Freudenthal formed the Wyoming Worker Fatality Prevention Task Force in early 2009 to address the issue of workplace fatalities. The group was assigned to figure out why Wyoming has the worst workplace fatality rate in the nation at 17 fatalities per 100,000 workers — more than four times the national average.

The task force worked closely with the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety to gather information from various agencies regarding workplace fatalities. The effort revealed that there were 210 workplace fatalities in Wyoming from 2003 to 2007, and 103 of them were motor vehicle crashes. Most of the victims weren’t wearing seatbelts.

“We kind of accomplished what we set out to do — identify root causes of workplace fatalities,” said Gary Hartman, a Freudenthal adviser who headed the task force. “We envision the state epidemiologist will become the safety champion for the state of Wyoming.”

The epidemiologist was one successful recommendation to emerge from the task force. The Wyoming Legislature defeated the task force’s other proposals during the February legislative session.

Lawmakers defeated a proposal to raise the fine for not wearing a seatbelt. It also defeated a bill that would have raised the penalty for an employer who violated the Occupational Safety and Health Act resulting in the death of an employee from the current maximum fine of $70,000 up to $250,000. The bill also would have increased penalties for nonfatal workplace safety violations.

Jonathan Downing, executive vice president of the Wyoming Contractors Association, said there’s still more to be done to address workplace safety. Downing, who served on the task force, said a contractors’ subcommittee will likely continue to meet and work on some industry-specific issues it has identified.

Downing also said the epidemiologist position should be made permanent. It’s currently funded for two years.

“Depending on who the next governor is, we might have to push on them to continue on with this. That’s something we’re going to be concerned with throughout the election cycle,” he said.

The Equality State Policy Center also would like to see the state epidemiologist position made permanent, said Dan Neal, the group’s executive director.

“I hope that people will ask all the candidates running for governor whether they support continuing this position,” he said. “We need to have all the politicians involved if we’re going to resolve this high workplace fatality rate that Wyoming suffers from.”

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