Wyoming’s high death rate is partly due to the percentage of the workforce employed in dangerous professions like the oil or gas fields.
Four mining, oil and gas workers died on the job in Wyoming in 2016, out of a total of 34 workplace fatalities in the state.
Fatalities were seen across most well-known careers in the Cowboy State, from truck drivers and coal miners to agricultural workers and oilmen, according to a workplace fatalities report released last Thursday by the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services’ Research and Planning division.
Six people in Wyoming’s agricultural sector died working in 2016, while transportation incidents represented 41 percent of all fatalities. The total number of fatalities remained the same, bucking a national upward trend.
Economic improvements can mean more workers are on the job, increasing the potential for serious incidents that lead to fatalities, said David Ballard, a state economist who co-authored the report. That’s an observation that is especially relevant in places like Wyoming when looking at deaths in the oil and gas sector.
Wyoming is often ranked as one of the worst states for worker death, leading to periodic pushes for change. The state’s high death rate is in part due to the percentage of the workforce employed in dangerous professions like the oil or gas fields.
“I think it’s a really safe assumption that our numbers go up and down with the boom and bust cycle with the energy economy,” Meredith Towle, state epidemiologist, told the Casper Star Tribune.
Workplace deaths over the last two decades peaked in 2007, when 48 Wyoming workers died on the job. At the time, the gas fields were booming. Oil and gas economies tanked in the last three years. “That may explain why fatalities did not increase here,” said Ballard, the state economist.
Oil and gas has thousands of well sites and a multitude of contractors working at a given drilling site, said Towle. “Coalescing around a common safety practice is hard when you are talking about so many different employers and so many different sites,” she said.
Towle puts out an annual fatalities report that details the circumstances of each death in Wyoming, comparing those incidents to previous years. The 2017 report is not yet available.