This week, Wyoming Public Radio aired a series of stories on workplace fatalities in the oil and gas industry. The series looked North Dakota’s high oil and gas fatality rate, Wyoming’s response to its own rising death toll, and whether there are lessons to be learned from the commercial fishing industry in Alaska, which has cut fatalities in half in the last decade. Emily Guerin of Prairie Public Radio and Stephanie Joyce of Wyoming Public Radio share some of their takeaways after reporting the series.
The dangers of the Bering Sea crab fishery have been made famous by the reality TV show Deadliest Catch. But, in the last 15 years, that industry has become much safer, in large part thanks to collaboration between industry, scientists and regulators. We wondered: are there lessons that the oil and gas industry could learn from the crab industry’s safety gains?
It's no secret that the oil and gas industry is dangerous. As the industry has grown to employ over half a million oil and gas workers nationwide, the number of fatalities has grown as well. Last year, 112 oil and gas workers died on the job; the year before, 142. Nationwide, oil and gas workers are still six times more likely to be killed on the job than the average American.
North Dakota is the most dangerous state in the country for oil and gas workers.
But that fact hasn't gotten a lot of attention until now. Governor Jack Dalrymple announced to Inside Energy this week that he's planning to bring together the state’s top safety officials to look into fatalities in the industry, and to see what they can do better.
Too many jobs, not enough bodies. That’s the dilemma of many Wyoming construction companies these days that can’t keep up with the building demands of the state’s energy boom. An influx of Latino workers are moving to Wyoming to take up the slack. And national figures show that Hispanics lead the nation in fatal injuries. And with Wyoming having one of the worst records for workplace fatalities, the question is: are Latinos putting themselves in the line of fire?
Despite violations at sister plants, the Wyoming Department of Workforce Service never inspected a sugar beet plant in Lovell where an employee was killed in January. Western Sugar Cooperative's Torrington plant received 15 citations in 2013, including one for improper guard rails -- the same problem that led to the death of 28-year-old Anfesa Galaktionoff.
The AFL-CIO, a coalition group of labor unions, has released a report blasting industry for failing to make workplaces safer, especially in oil and gas. Wyoming has ranked as one of the five most deadly states to work in for the last ten years. In 2012, only North Dakota had more workplace fatalities. Kim Floyd, Executive Secretary for the Wyoming chapter of the AFL-CIO says it has a lot to do with the focus of both states’ economies.
Thirty-one workers died on the job in Wyoming in 2012, up from 29 the year before. That’s according to a report by Wyoming’s occupational epidemiologist. Wyoming has one of the worst workplace death rates in the nation. The report attributes that to the fact that a large proportion of Wyoming’s workforce is employed in high risk occupations like oil and gas, ranching, and construction jobs.
The Wyoming Department of Work Force Services says the number of workplace fatalities decreased by four from 2010 to 2011.
David Bullard of the Research and Planning section of the department says for the fourth consecutive year the number of workplace deaths in Wyoming was below the average of 34 per year and in 2011 the number was 29. But Bullard says this is far from a trend.
“No I wouldn’t say that. I mean we saw a slight decrease in 2011, but the random nature of these accidents makes it so we can’t rule out that it’s something random going on.”