Bear death in county part of higher workplace fatality rate across state

Sep 17, 2015 By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

A local bear attack is among the 34 workplace fatalities occurring in the state last year, according to a recent report from Wyoming Workforce Services.

The total represents an sharp increase from 2013, when 26 workplace deaths were recorded.

State epidemiologist Meredith Towle thinks the uptick is reason for concern.

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

"The fact that the number ... has increased is an indication we need to keep working on this project and try new things," Towle said in an interview.

Wyoming has recorded the second-highest rate of workplace death in the country 2010-2013, according to data from the federal of Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2013, Wyoming's rate was more than three times the national average.

Numbers for 2014 were not available from the federal agency, and Towle said the 34-deaths figure from WWS for 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.

Descriptions

The WWS 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 listed likely occurred near a local community, however. The report lists a 31-year-old man who died of a bear attack in a national forest. Authorities reported a bear killed 31-year-old Adam Stewart Sept. 4, 2014, in the Bridger-Teton National Forest near Dubois. Stewart was monitoring vegetation for his employer, ecological consulting firm Nature's Capital, at the time.

In the three years WWS 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.

Motor vehicles

Wyoming could decrease workplace deaths by addressing motor vehicle safety, Towle suggested.

Vehicle wrecks accounted for 13, or more than one-third, of the workplace deaths 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."

Employers can establish more training for workers who drive, Towle said, or install monitoring systems to make a fleet vehicle inoperable if seat belts are not in use. She said Wyoming also could implement additional seatbelt policies and educational programs.

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.