- Associated Press - Saturday, June 27, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - As a safety specialist with Union Telephone Company, Cal Davis routinely worries about his maintenance workers, who have to scale high heights and deal with dangerous equipment on a daily basis.

But he said his main concern is a threat that almost every worker faces, regardless of industry.

“I don’t stay awake at night worrying about guys falling off of towers,” he said. “But driving from their office to that tower could easily kill them. That is a big concern.”

Efforts to improve worker safety while on Wyoming’s roadways was one of the many topics discussed during the two-day Wyoming Safety and Workplace Summit this past week.

Scores of business owners and employees from a variety of industries attended the third annual summit.

The event came as Wyoming continues to rank as one of the most deadly states for workers on a per-capita basis.

According to state figures, 26 workers died while on the job in 2013. That number is expected to increase when the 2014 totals are released.

Meredith Towle, the state’s occupational epidemiologist, said this is partly because the proportion of Wyoming workers in high-risk industries, such as mining and oil and gas extraction, is double the national average.

But during one of the more than 70 breakout sessions held during the summit, she said about half of Wyoming’s workplace fatalities occur on the roads.

“Transportation incidents are a leading cause of occupational fatalities in every state, so that trend is not unique to us,” she said. “But we are higher than the national average.”

The high commercial truck traffic travelling through the state is one of the reasons to blame for Wyoming’s high death toll.

But Towle said about half of the roadway deaths were still from Wyoming workers.

Towle and others at the summit said many of these deaths likely were avoidable. That’s because she said 35 percent to 40 percent of the roadway deaths came as the worker was not wearing their seat belt.

During another breakout session, Matthew D. Carlson, state highway safety engineer with the Wyoming Department of Transportation, talked about the importance of convincing workers to wear their seat belts.

Carlson said this is a major issue for the state, regardless of whether someone is on the job.

“The folks who are being hurt and killed are the ones not wearing their seat belt,” he said.

Carlson said a limitation to convince people to wear their seat belt is the lack of a state primary seat belt law. That means law enforcement can only cite someone for not wearing a seat belt if they are pulled over for a different infraction.

He added that workers who routinely have to drive while on the job also should be sure to check their speeds.

Even if they are within the legal speed limit, he said it’s their responsibility to make sure they are driving the appropriate speed for conditions at that time.

Davis, the safety specialist with Union Telephone Company, said he plans to take the information he learned at the summit back to his workplace.

He said Wyoming still has a long way to go to change the culture of workplace safety within the state.

But he said he is hopeful the state is moving in the right direction.

“It’s slow, but there is progress,” he said. “When you see people are dying, my instinct is I want to stop that. But the fact that they are even having this conference, that shows to me that they are doing something.”

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Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, http://www.wyomingnews.com

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