In 2008, Lawyers and Advocates for Wyoming launched a new initiative – The Spence Association for Employee Rights (SAFER). SAFER’s mission is to protect and represent workers and the workforce by improving workplace safety and obtaining justice for injured workers. SAFER works with citizens and legislators in identifying and solving problems affecting injured workers. SAFER will strive to achieve this mission through education, legislation, and zealous representation.
Year after year, Wyoming is consistently one of the most dangerous states in the nation for workers. Due in large part to its natural resources and an ongoing energy boom, Wyoming has become an unacceptably dangerous place for tens of thousands of its citizens to make a living and our workers have been killed and injured at alarming rates.
From 2001-2012, the average nationwide workplace fatality rate was about 4.0 per 100,000 workers. During those years, Wyoming’s workplace fatality rate was frequently triple and occasionally more than quadruple the national average. From 2003-2005 and again in 2007-2008, Wyoming had the highest fatality rate in the nation, a dubious distinction currently held by North Dakota, a neighboring State experiencing tremendous oil development. In 2001, 2002 and 2006, and 2010. Wyoming had the second highest fatality rate in the nation. In 2007, 48 people were killed on the job, the highest number in State history. The number of workplace fatalities dropped to 19 during the economic slowdown of 2009 only to substantially increase to 33 in 2010. Over the last 15 years, while the national workplace fatality rate has steadily decreased, Wyoming’s has steadily increased. In addition, the injury and illness rates for Wyoming workers are also consistently higher than the national average.
On September 9 2014, the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services announced that occupational fatalities fell from 35 in 2012 to 26 in 2013. C. Mack Sewell, Wyoming’s State Occupational Epidemiologist, issued a report the next day, explaining that fatalities “have dropped from the previous year primarily due to a significant drop in transportation related fatalities.” It was also noted “Wyoming experienced two mining fatalities in 2013—an industry that hadn’t experienced a fatality since 2011.”
There is a profound need for improving workplace safety in extra-hazardous industries, especially oil and gas extraction or mining development in Wyoming and North Dakota, and to make sure that if an employee is injured, he or she will quickly and efficiently receive the necessary medical and lost wage benefits guaranteed by Workers’ Compensation laws. L.A.W. Director Mark Aronowitz, who also directs SAFER, and advanced legislation significantly improving Wyoming Workers’ Compensation laws and benefits available to injured workers and, in the event of a workplace fatality, their families. In 2012, Mark successfully supported legislation creating seven new positions for Wyoming OSHA – positions filled by courtesy inspectors who can identify and help correct safety problems violations before injuries occur.
SAFER has also been instrumental in developing Wyoming’s Workers’ Memorial Day. Workers’ Memorial Day is observed every year on April 28. It is a day to honor those workers who have died on the job, to acknowledge the grievous suffering experienced by families and communities, and to recommit to the fight for safe and healthful workplaces for all workers. It is also the day OSHA was established in 1971.
SAFER and L.A.W. actively promote workplace safety awareness and accountability on a State level, while simultaneously representing injured workers individually. SAFER, L.A.W., and The Spence Law Firm are encouraged by the considerable decrease in workplace fatalities from 2012 to 2013 and we hope this represents a turning point for Wyoming employers and workers as we all strive to dramatically improve our State’s safety record.