CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Working in Wyoming can be dangerous.
With an average of 10 workplace deaths per 100,000 workers, the Cowboy State has one of the highest occupational fatality rates in the country, according to a 2021 report released by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, or AFL-CIO.
To raise awareness about the ranking, local labor organizations and community leaders gathered at the rotunda of the Capitol on Friday afternoon and spoke about the need for more work safety measures in the state.
Organized by the Wyoming State AFL-CIO and the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association, the gathering coincided with Workers’ Memorial Day. Labor movements and organizations around the world acknowledge April 28 as a time of remembrance for workers killed, injured or made unwell while on the job. Friday’s event was one of dozens that took place across the U.S, including in neighboring states Nebraska, Montana and South Dakota.
Tammy Johnson, executive director of Wyoming AFL-CIO, said Wyoming has done nothing to provide employees with safe working environments. Wyoming has always been a state that favors business growth and development over a safe and protective workforce, Johnson said.
During the recent Legislative Session, Johnson said no laws were passed to create “real change.” She wants lawmakers to pass harsher penalties for employers of workers killed on the job and for Gov. Mark Gordon to form a taskforce that will study work environments and recommend appropriate legislation.
“I hear all the time that Wyoming is just a hard place to work, that work is dangerous so we are just going to have deaths,” she said during the event. “I refuse to accept that and so should the people of Wyoming. We need to understand why workers die on the job.”
In 2021, Wyoming had 27 occupational fatalities. Those deaths occurred in various industries, including natural resources and mining, transportation and construction, according to Wyoming’s Workforce Services. This is a 22.9% decrease from 35 fatalities in 2020.
Despite the decrease, Marcia Shanor, executive director for the Wyoming Trial Law Association, said Wyoming still ranks first in workplace deaths. She wants the state to increase the number of inspectors on work sites and find an occupational epidemiologist that will analyze why, when and how the fatalities occur.
“I hope that when I stand here next year — and I will stand here next year — that we have actually made some inroads,” she said during the event. “We have to talk about the whys and hows that lead to policy changes that will actually make a difference. It has to be a priority for all of us.”
To support the families and friends of Wyomingites who have been killed or injured on the job, Shanor said the association and Wyoming AFL-CIO are sponsoring a local Kids for Chance scholarship. Kids for Chance is a national nonprofit that provides educational scholarships and support for children of workers.
Shanor said information about the scholarship criteria and application will be available May 1 on the association’s website.