With an overall workplace death rate in his state more than 3.5 times the 2010 national average and a ranking as the worst state for such deaths in five of the past 10 years, Wyoming’s governor is taking to heart a report indicating that almost all of those deaths in the oil and gas sector occurred because safety rules were ignored.

In a recent report to Gov. Matt Mead, state occupation epidemiologist Timothy Ryan noted that 96% of 62 deaths in Wyoming’s petroleum industry between 2001 and 2008 were related to poor safety practices. In half of the 32 deaths on drilling rigs, workers were crushed by falling objects. Seventeen of 25 industry workers who were killed in vehicle accidents were not wearing seat belts.

In his memo to the governor, Ryan alleged that the data showed the oil and gas industry lacked a “culture of safety.” He recommended that safety data be shared and efforts made to improve safety programs. Mead said he will implement recommendations and focus on better methods for improving worker safety across the state.

“I believe that we must find ways to get workers in Wyoming home safely at the end of the day,” Mead said. “These recommendations are a first step on the path to making every workplace safer. They do not provide a solution but show that some systemic changes need to be made. They also indicate we still have work to do to further evaluate and make progress in workplace safety.”

Don Burkhart, who heads the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, told reporters that there are both small and large companies that either “don’t get it [safety measures] or don’t want to.” He called these companies “exceptions,” however. “I think there are some companies that would take exception to the report because it doesn’t describe them,” Burkhart told Montana’s Billings Gazette. “There are other companies of which this is a direct reflection of them.”

Burkhart said the industry supports Mead’s proposals. The state’s industry formed the Wyoming Oil and Gas Industry Safety Alliance in 2010 to address what were conceded to be safety problems and high death rates.

According to the governor’s office, the safety recommendations put in place by industry need to address “the culture of workplace safety, better collaboration and communication, and a workable data collection system.” To address the problem of data collection, the occupational epidemiologist position is being transferred to the Department of Workforce Services, which would put the position within the Wyoming Occupational Safety and Health Administration to analyze workplace data.

“The move will overcome some of the regulatory barriers to accessing data,” a spokesperson for the governor said. Mead called his overall response “steps toward improving collaboration and communication,” specifying that over the last year the state has learned that access to timely data is “a barrier to adequate analysis and this must be addressed.”

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