Labor advocate spots unsafe conditions at local job site, offers ideas to reduce workplace injuries, deaths in Wyoming

    During a legislative committee meeting this week, the executive director of Wyoming’s AFL-CIO called out a contractor for not implementing worker safety measures at a job site in Fremont County.

    Tammy Johnson said one of her employees spotted the problem while driving from Dubois to Lander over the weekend.

    “There was a construction crew out there – no helmets, no vests, no shirts,” she reported. “All the guys are out there working on the roads. Their employer is not making them follow the safety regulations. …

    “Transportation is the largest category of death-related work injuries,” she continued, “and here we have a contractor who’s working for the State of Wyoming who’s not requiring his workers to be adequately dressed. That’s just one example. We can do better.”

    Workplace deaths

    Johnson was addressing the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee, which was asked to review the state workers’ compensation fund this year.

    As part of that discussion, the JAC heard that Wyoming has been able to reduce the number of injuries reported to the workers’ compensation program over the past 20 years.

    h/t Legislative Services Office

    During public comment, Johnson said she was “glad to hear” that the number of workplace injury reports has fallen – but she also reminded the JAC that Wyoming’s on-the-job death rate is still “the highest in the nation.”

    “It’s over 2.5 times the national average,” Johnson said. “We have been consistently the highest. … I’m not happy with (that). We shouldn’t be doing it. We’re better than that.”


    Johnson offered several ideas that could be implemented in order to reduce workplace fatalities in Wyoming.

    For example, she said, contractors like the one identified in Fremont County could be required to post signage at work sites asking passers-by to report job safety violations.

    The sign could include the contact information needed to report a problem, she said, making it “much easier for the public (to) to call and say, ‘Hey, this is going on, can you send someone down here and knock this contractor in the head?’”

    The state could also require employers to make their job safety ratings available to potential new employees, Johnson continued – that way, job applicants will know whether “this is a contractor that hurts workers,” or if it’s “a contractor … I want to work for.”

    “Particularly in the construction industry, we have to ask these contractors to own what they’re doing,” Johnson said. “At least the workers could go in informed.”

    Another suggestion from Johnson is to increase the number of Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors available in Wyoming.

    Currently, Johnson said, it would take 167 years for the state’s OSHA inspectors to review every workplace in Wyoming.

    “I think if we could up the number of OSHA inspectors we have and put them in those more highly dangerous situation areas, that would be helpful to lowering some of these accident and death rates,” Johnson said.

    Extra hazardous

    Johnson also proposed Wyoming restore the epidemiologist position that used to study workplace injuries and deaths, and she asked that retail employees be included in the state workers’ compensation pool.

    “(Retail workers) stock the shelves, they work in the back, they drive forklifts – they do everything now,” she said. “We need to rethink how we classify (them).”

    Currently, workers’ compensation coverage in Wyoming is only available for jobs “deemed extra hazardous,” senior fiscal analyst Polly Scott told the JAC earlier in the meeting, noting that the rule impacts the workers’ compensation “risk pool.”

    “Limiting the coverage to extra-hazardous employment (is) going to increase the risk in the pool, as opposed to if all employment were covered, for example,” Scott explained.

    Other states, like North Dakota, require all employers to purchase workers’ compensation through their state fund, the committee heard this week.

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