Vehicle Wrecks Top Cause of Higher Wyoming Workplace Fatality Rate

September 22, 2015

A bear mauling death in Fremont County is among 37 workplace fatalities counted in Wyoming last year, according to a state report.

The Wyoming Workforce Services report says the number of workplace deaths in 2014 was a sharp increase from 2013, when 26 workplace deaths were recorded.

State epidemiologist Meredith Towle said she thinks the increase is reason for concern.

Wyoming implemented initiatives to improve workplace safety in recent years, Towle said.

“The fact that the number … has increased is an indication we need to keep working on this project and try new things,” Towle told The Ranger.

In 2013, Wyoming’s rate was more than three times the national average, according to data from the federal of Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Numbers for 2014 were not available from the federal agency, and Towle said the 37 deaths counted last year should be considered preliminary. The federal Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries should issue a report on the 2014 numbers this month using methodology that is consistent with past years and other states.

The Wyoming report gave descriptions of the 34 fatalities but did not include locations.

Towle said some sources did not provide location data, while others do not make locations public. She intends to publish location information in the future, she said.

One fatality lists a 31-year-old man who died of a bear attack in a national forest. Authorities have reported a bear killed Adam Stewart, 31, on Sept. 4, 2014, in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in northwest Wyoming. Stewart was monitoring vegetation for his employer, an ecological consulting firm, at the time.

In the three years Wyoming Workforce Services has issued reports on workplace fatalities, it has not noted any other deaths caused by wild animals, Towle said, though some people working in the agricultural sector have been killed by horses, cattle or other large animals.

Last year, one Wyoming rancher died after a horse kicked him in the head. Another was killed when he was struck in the head by a gate that had been kicked by a bull.

About 43 percent of the deaths in 2014 occurred in vehicle wrecks in 2014.

“Preventing motor vehicle accidents I think should be high priority in Wyoming,” Towle said. “They are a leading cause of fatality on the job.”

In her first year as state epidemiologist, Towle changed the way some deaths are categorized in an effort to bring employers’ attention to more aspects of worker safety.

In a departure from her predecessor’s method, she did not classify all deaths of people traveling for work as transportation industry fatalities. Instead, she included motor vehicle deaths in the totals for the industries employing the individuals involved.

For instance, the deaths of several oil and gas workers who were driving between sites or transporting equipment for their jobs were classified as fatalities under the oil and gas industry.

“The reason for doing that was so the oil and gas industry can get a bigger picture for what is causing fatalities among the workforce that is supporting their activity,” Towle said.

She hopes that the industry considers the safety of its workers, whether employees are at an oil or gas site or on the road for their job.

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