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Wyoming Workers At Risk; Safety Record Among Worst in Nation

Sep 08, 2011

Wyoming is consistently one of the most dangerous states in the nation for workers. Due in large part to its natural resources and undulating energy booms, Wyoming has become an unacceptably dangerous place for tens of thousands of its citizens to make a living. On August 30th 2011, Wyoming Public Radio reported that Wyoming had 34 workplace fatalities in 2010, an alarming 80% increase from 2009. One day before the 2010 statistics were released, an oil rig explosion and fire at a Samson Resources oil production facility in Converse County killed three men. Then, on September 1st, a 29 year old man was fatally injured while working at the Peabody Energy owned North Antelope Rochelle Mine in Wyoming's Powder River Basin. We had hoped 2009 represented the culmination of an improved commitment to safety for Wyoming. Instead, based on the 2010 figures and tragedies of last week, 2009 appears to have been an anomaly. Some history. From 2001-2010, the average nationwide workplace fatality rate was about 4.0 per 100,000 workers. During this decade, Wyoming's workplace fatality rate was at least triple and sometimes quadruple the national average in all but one year (2009.) In 2007, 48 people were killed on the job, the highest number in State history. From 2003-2005 and 2007-2008, Wyoming had the highest workplace fatality rate in the nation. In 2001, 2002 and 2006, Wyoming had the second highest workplace fatality rate in the nation. Disturbingly, over the last 15 years, the national workplace fatality rate has steadily decreased while Wyoming's has steadily increased. In addition, the injury and illness rates for Wyoming workers are also consistently higher than the national average. In 2009, Wyoming received some cautiously promising news: the number of workplace fatalities had dropped from 33 in 2008 to 19 in 2009, the lowest total for Wyoming since the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries began keeping records. As a result, Wyoming's workplace fatality rate went from worst to fourth worst in the nation. At the time, Mark Aronowitz, an attorney with the Spence Law Firm and the Director of Lawyers and Advocates for Wyoming and SAFER, expressed optimism and concern. While any decrease in the fatality statistics and rates was welcome news, we worried that the numbers were the result of the economic downturn, higher unemployment and decreased oil and gas drilling throughout the State. Unfortunately, these concerns may have been well founded. The Baker Hughes North America Rotary rig count conducts a monthly census for the number of drilling rigs actively exploring for or developing oil or natural gas in the United States and Canada. For the last five years, from 2007-2011, the average September rig count in Wyoming was 78, 80, 36, 43 and 51. This count shows that Wyoming had more than twice as many active rigs in 2007 and 2008, when it was worst in the nation for workplace fatality rate. In 2009, when gas prices decreased during the economic downturn, the number of active rigs plummeted, as did the number of workplace fatalities. Similar pattern in North Dakota energy boom? The rig count also sheds light on the present situation in North Dakota where an estimated 4 to 20 plus billion barrels of oil may eventually be pumped from the booming Bakken formation. The Bakken formation represents one of the largest potentially recoverable oil reserves in the United States. In July 2011, North Dakota had, by a substantial margin, the lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 3.3%. (Wyoming was seventh at 5.8% and the national average was 9.1%.) From 2007-2011, the September rotary rig count for oil or natural gas drilling in North Dakota was 43, 74, 47, 131 and, as of this month, 180. Unsurprisingly, North Dakota had the nation's fourth highest workplace fatality rate in 2008 and was tied for the second highest in 2009. In 2010, there were 30 workplace fatalities in North Dakota, up 20% from 2007. The Spence Law Firm and SAFER continue to monitor these developments and fight for enhanced worker safety laws. For more information, contact us at (844) 447-5497.

*The statistics used in this article are from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the AFL-CIO's annual report – ‘Death on the Job The Toll of Neglect'. While statistics are useful for analyzing trends, they do nothing to alleviate the tremendous pain and suffering families experience when a loved one goes to work and never comes home. Each workplace fatality in Wyoming, North Dakota and across the country represents a life and family destroyed. The Spence Law Firm, Lawyers and Advocates for Wyoming and SAFER strives to improve workplace safety while representing the family members who have suffered indescribable tragedy.

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