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Safety Stakeholders: Wyoming Needs Occupational Safety Overhaul

According to the Wyoming State AFL-CIO and The Spence Association for Employee Rights (SAFER), the Wyoming state government and legislature must make some big changes to address the state's dismal worker safety record.

A December 2011 report documenting Wyoming's workplace safety record revealed that the state had the nation's highest or second highest workplace fatality rate in the country for 8 of the 9 years between 2001 and 2009. In 2010, 34 workplace fatalities occurred in Wyoming, a 78-percent increase from 2009.

The report, authored by Dr. Timothy Ryan, then the state epidemiologist, also pointed out the failure of state and industry leaders to take the issue of occupational safety seriously.

"It's high time that state government and the legislature quit playing games with the lives of workers in Wyoming," said Wyoming State AFL-CIO Executive Secretary Kim Floyd. "Eight years of being worse or second-worst in death-on-the-job is proof that there's a problem in Wyoming that needs to be remedied," he added. "They need to step up to the plate."

Mark Aronowitz, lead attorney for SAFER, the Spence Association For Employee Rights, said the state needs "a renewed commitment to safety with on-the-ground changes, from the highest levels of our state government down to individual work sites."

According to Wyoming State AFL-CIO and SAFER, Wyoming must:

· Empower OSHA, enabling the agency to hire more inspectors not only to increase courtesy inspections, but to conduct both scheduled and surprise inspections and subsequently fine and penalize companies violating safety laws. Mandatory inspections should be required following any accident requiring hospitalization.
· Direct OSHA to determine why Wyoming mines, where MSHA regulates safety, have significantly better safety records than other hazardous industries.
· Increase penalties and fines for employers and employees who discourage reporting of injuries to avoid increases in workers' compensation premiums, to protect safety bonuses or for any other reason.
· Make company injury records public. General contractors, worksite owners and workers, especially those working in especially hazardous industries, deserve to know whether their subcontractors, independent contractors and employers have instilled a culture of safety.

In a Jan. 3 statement, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead said he would implement the report's recommendations and continue to explore ways to improve safety for workers 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."

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