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Wyo. ranks 2nd for workplace fatality rate in 2010

By Mead Gruver

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, May 15 2012 7:00 p.m. MDT

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyoming had the nation's second-highest rate of fatal workplace accidents in 2010 amid a post-recession rebound in oil and gas development, according to newly released figures from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The deadliest U.S. mine accident in 40 years gave West Virginia the highest rate. The explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine claimed 29 of the 95 people killed in workplace accidents in West Virginia in 2010.

That year in Wyoming, workplace accidents claimed 33 lives, up from 19 in 2009. Wyoming ranked fourth for its workplace fatality rate in 2009 but has been first or second nine of the past 10 years.

The state's consistently high workplace death rate reflects an energy industry that employs a relatively large portion of Wyoming's workforce, compared with less dangerous jobs, officials said.

Five of Wyoming's workplace deaths in 2010 were in the state's mining sector, which includes oil and gas extraction as well as Wyoming's vast coal industry. That's up from three in 2009.

In 2008, 33 people died from workplace accidents, including eight deaths in mining and oil and gas extraction.

A rebound in oil and gas drilling following the 2007-2009 recession contributed to the increase in deadly workplace accidents in the state, said John Ysebaert, standards and compliance administrator for the Wyoming Workers' Safety and Compensation Division.

"There's no way around it. The fatality rate is alarming," Ysebaert said. "It is absolutely in our crosshairs. Not a good statistic."

Those killed by workplace accidents in Wyoming in 2010 included:

— Mark Wolling, a Jackson Hole Mountain Resort ski patroller caught in an avalanche

— Boyd Bannan, a laborer for Buck Creek Freight who was crushed by nearly 50 tons of well casing joints 40 miles north of Lusk

— Elvin Loggins, a welder crushed by a large section of pipe in Sweetwater County while working on a natural gas pipeline for Snelson Companies Inc.

"These are human beings we're talking about," said Dan Neal, executive director of the Equality State Policy Center. "We still believe strongly that nobody should be killed or maimed just because they went to work one day."

The state government watchdog and lobbying group has made raising awareness of workplace safety one of its top priorities, he said.

Wyoming's 2010 workplace fatality rate was 12.9 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, up from 7.5 in 2009 and 12.5 in 2008. West Virginia's rate in 2010, the most recent year of available data, was 13.7. Ranking third was Alaska with a rate of 11.5.

States with relatively few mining and agriculture jobs ranked better: New Hampshire had the lowest rate, 0.9, and Massachusetts was second-best, 1.8.

Wyoming's workplace fatality rate has tracked fairly closely to the trend of worker deaths in the oil and gas industry nationwide: 107 in 2010, 68 in 2009 and 120 in 2008.

State officials including Gov. Matt Mead have taken several steps recently to try to improve Wyoming's workplace safety. They include appropriating money to hire seven workplace safety consultants to work with employers to make their work environments safer.

The approach emphasizes working with businesses on a voluntary basis rather than stepping in and issuing citations only after an accident has occurred.

"I think the governor has got the executive branch moving as quickly as it can," Neal said. "We're pleased to see the commitment, and hopefully we'll see the numbers go down."

Follow Mead Gruver at www.twitter.com/meadgruver

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