FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 2012 Wyoming Workplace Fatalities at Highest Level Since 2007

The Spence Association For Employee Rights and the Spence Law Firm were disappointed and saddened to learn that in 2012, the number of workplace fatalities in Wyoming increased to 35, the highest level since 48 workers were killed in 2007. These sobering figures were compiled by the federal Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries and the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services and remind us all that a tremendous amount of work must be done to provide safer workplaces for all Wyoming workers.

Recent tragedies indicate the situation is not improving in 2013. Mr. Carl Jordan, 32, was killed in a drilling rig accident north of Baggs on May 15th. WyoFile reported that, at the time and unofficially, Mr. Jordan, who left behind a wife and five children, was the eighth workplace fatality of 2013. Since then, Mr. Ty Ross Aagard, 25, was killed in a farming accident near Manderson on Wednesday August 14th. Wyoming OSHA will not be investigating since the accident occurred on a small family farm with fewer than 10 employees. On Friday August 16th, Mr. Jacob Dowdy, 24, of Upton was killed and his co-worker was injured at Arch Coal’s Black Thunder Mine when a power shovel travelling up a ramp rolled back striking the pickup trucks Mr. Dowdy and his co-worker were driving. MSHA is currently investigating.

In recent years the Wyoming legislature has confronted Wyoming’s historically deplorable workplace safety record with an all carrot no stick approach. Notably, in the last 18 months, the legislature created a $500,000 Wyoming safety improvement fund aimed at helping businesses implement health and safety training programs or assisting with the purchase of health and safety equipment and doubled the number of OSHA personnel capable of providing voluntary consultations to Wyoming businesses.

While skeptical that money and voluntary consultations alone will cure a workplace safety record hovering at or amongst the worst in the nation for over a decade, we remain optimistic that these programs are steps in the right direction and, given their newness, recognize that they deserve time to be fully implemented prior to judging their effectiveness.

We also agree wholeheartedly with Joan Evans, the director of the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, when she says that “one workplace fatality is too many.” If one is too many and 2012 was the worst year in recent history, then all options, including increased compliance inspections and increased penalties for willful and serious violations must be on the table. Wyoming workers deserve serious consideration of alternative approaches as well as the ability to return safely to their families when their work is done.

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