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State has second-worst workplace death rate

May 16, 2012 - The Associated Press

CHEYENNE -- Wyoming had the nation's second-highest rate of fatal workplace accidents in 2010 amid a post-recession rebound in oil and gas development, according to newly released figures from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The deadliest U.S. mine accident in 40 years gave West Virginia the highest rate. The explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine claimed 29 of the 95 people killed in workplace accidents in West Virginia in 2010.

That year in Wyoming, workplace accidents claimed 33 lives, up from 19 in 2009. Wyoming ranked fourth for its workplace fatality rate in 2009 but has been first or second nine of the past 10 years.

The state's consistently high workplace death rate reflects an energy industry that employs a relatively large portion of Wyoming's workforce, compared with less dangerous jobs, officials said.

Five of Wyoming's workplace deaths in 2010 were in the state's mining sector, which includes oil and gas extraction as well as Wyoming's vast coal industry. That's up from three in 2009.

In 2008, 33 people died from workplace accidents, including eight deaths in mining and oil and gas extraction.

A rebound in oil and gas drilling following the 2007-2009 recession contributed to the increase in deadly workplace accidents in the state, said John Ysebaert, standards and compliance administrator for the Wyoming Workers' Safety and Compensation Division.

"There's no way around it. The fatality rate is alarming," Ysebaert said. "It is absolutely in our crosshairs. Not a good statistic."

Those killed by workplace accidents in Wyoming in 2010 included:

- Mark Wolling, a Jackson Hole Mountain Resort ski patroller caught in an avalanche

- Boyd Bannan, a laborer for Buck Creek Freight who was crushed by nearly 50 tons of well casing joints 40 miles north of Lusk

- Elvin Loggins, a welder crushed by a large section of pipe in Sweetwater County while working on a natural gas pipeline for Snelson Companies Inc.

"These are human beings we're talking about," said Dan Neal, executive director of the Equality State Policy Center. "We still believe strongly that nobody should be killed or maimed just because they went to work one day."

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