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Wyoming Workers’ Memorial Day a Success

May 05, 2016

On April 29, 2016 Lawyers and Advocates for Wyoming, along with the Wyoming Trial Lawyer's Association and the Equality State Policy Center hosted Wyoming's 5th Annual Workers' Memorial Day in Jackson, Wyoming. Workers' Memorial Day has several important purposes. First, to pause and pay respect to the many Wyoming citizens who lost their lives while working. Second, to acknowledge the tremendous suffering experienced by family members affected by workplace tragedies. And finally, to inform State leaders, policy makers and the general public about the importance of promoting workplace safety.

Speakers at this year's event included Representative Stan Blake from Green River, Kristeen Hand, a partner with the Spence Law Firm, SAFER and L.A.W. Director Mark Aronowitz, and Wyoming House District #56 Candidate and longtime workplace safety advocate Dan Neal. Kristeen Hand spoke of the serious risk workers in Wyoming face: "Remembering those that have died while working in Wyoming industries is important. Finding a way to reduce these casualties must be a high priority among our elected officials."

Governor Matt Mead was unable to attend but wrote in support: "The goal is no fatalities and until we reach that goal our work is not done. Please know that I remain committed to job safety and will continue to work to make Wyoming a safer place to work. God bless those remembered today and their families."

Workers' Memorial Day is an especially somber day in Wyoming: for the past quarter century, Wyoming has consistently had either the worst or second worst workplace fatality rate in the entire country. A workplace fatality rate is measured by deaths per 100,000 workers. In 2014, the national average was 3.4 per 100,000 workers. Wyoming, with 37 workplace fatalities, had a rate of 13.1 per 100,000 workers. This was by far the worst in the nation and nearly quadruple the national average.

Teton County is often viewed as an isolated bubble, an anomaly in a State with enormous coal mines, trona mines, oil and gas drilling, pipelines and refineries, agriculture, railroads and major Interstate transportation corridors. Teton County has a unique, tourism based economy, but workers here including ski patrollers, search and rescue personnel, firefighters and first responders, outdoor adventure guides, heavy equipment operators and construction workers are all exposed to the risks of working in hazardous environments. Our community has experienced a heartbreaking share of workplace fatalities.

In 2009 Kathryn Miller, a ski patroller at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, died from injuries sustained following a catastrophic fall. In 2010, Mark Wolling, another JH ski patroller, died from injuries sustained after being buried in an avalanche while performing avalanche hazard reduction work. In 2012, Byron Peck, a 33-year-old construction worker, died after falling off a ladder while working on a Grand Teton National Park housing project. Also in 2012, Ray Shriver, a veteran Teton County search and rescue team member, died following a helicopter crash during a search and rescue operation near Togwotee Pass. And in 2014, Adam Stewart, an environmental surveyor, was killed by a bear while conducting research in the Teton Wilderness.

Wyoming must do more to protect its workers. Mark Aronowitz of Lawyers and Advocates for Wyoming commented, "In this decade alone, Wyoming has experienced well over 150 workplace fatalities. This is beyond unacceptable and it's far past time to recognize that maintaining the status quo is no longer an option."

For more information, please contact Mark Aronowitz at LAW, Lawyers and Advocates for Wyoming, 307-733-7290.

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