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New state program targets high-risk workplaces

Deadly Workplaces logoThe state launched a new “Safety and Risk” division in April, re-assigning nine consultants and vastly increasing the number of visits regulators can make to high-risk worksites. Officials estimate the new program will increase statewide field visits four-fold.

“It’s a greater use of the resources we have, and a greater opportunity to increase risk management,” John Ysebaert, administrator for Wyoming Workforce Services’ Office of Standards and Compliance, said.

The Safety and Risk division was created with state funds previously committed to the consultation side of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA, which is run by the state but mandated by the federal government, is funded by a 90 percent federal, 10 percent state split. Wyoming had for years “over-matched” its required portion to the tune of $1.2 million each year. The state “swept” or re-apportioned that $1.2 million to create the new division.

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Wyoming Workforce Services director John Cox examined the state-federal OSHA consultation program and decided there were too many federally imposed restrictions on the division’s 13 employees. The restrictions prevented the consultants from getting out of the office and into Wyoming workplaces. Now, the nine of 13 OSHA consultation officers moved to the new Safety and Risk division have much more freedom to perform analysis and field inspection work.

“The feds have different jurisdictions and other restrictions, so all of this goes away,” Ysebaert said, “and they can look at priority [workplaces] according to high-incident and high-hazard rates.

“We wished we would have thought about it years ago,” he added.

The new Safety and Risk consultants analyze accident and claims data to identify high-risk workplaces, and they can pay those employers a visit whether they volunteer for the consultation or not. So far the division has identified 110 worksites across the state, and they have already visited many of those employers, Ysebaert said.

The state-federal OSHA consultation division is now down to four employees, but overall, the state is able to quadruple its field visits and have a much greater impact in risk prevention, Ysebaert said. Both OSHA and Workers’ Compensation operate under the umbrella of Wyoming Workforce Services, along with the state’s occupational epidemiologist. Drawing from all of those resources, the state is better able to access and analyze workplace safety data then rely on Safety and Risk consultants to seek out problem areas and encourage employers to take action.

“The OSHA division will maintain staff levels and complete work required by the federal government,” Workforce Services said in a statement. “Enforcement of safety standards will remain with Wyoming OSHA’s nine compliance inspectors.”

The incentive for employers is simple, Ysebaert said: avoid higher workers’ comp premiums and potential safety citations by making workplaces safer.

Safety incentive

State analysis suggests that employers in the Safety Improvement grant program have a higher than average rate of injuries. (courtesy Wyoming Workforce Services)

State analysis suggests that employers in the Safety Improvement grant program have a higher than average rate of injuries. (courtesy Wyoming Workforce Services)

Dozens of businesses have taken advantage of a state matching grant to create their own workplace safety programs.

The Safety Improvement Fund was created in 2012 allowing businesses to apply for up to $10,000 with a 10 percent match from the employer. The state provides $500,000 to the fund each biennium, and it’s already fully tapped for 2016. Lawmakers have reauthorized the $500,000 commitment for the 2017-18 biennium.

Together, businesses that have taken on new voluntary safety programs employ more than 5,000 workers. State analysis shows that those beneficiaries needed the extra attention on safety, too. From 2013 through 2015, Safety Improvement Fund-participating businesses had a total 304 employees who were either injured or killed on the job, according to a state report.

“The trend shows that in general, employers that have higher injury rates are using the program,” the report states. “This shows the program is effectively targeting the most critical employers.”

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Energy and policy reporter Dustin Bleizeffer recently completed a John S. Knight Journalism fellowship at Stanford University. He has covered energy and natural resource issues in Wyoming for 18 years. Follow Dustin on Twitter @DBleizeffer

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2 Responses to New state program targets high-risk workplaces

  1. Keith Collins May 10, 2016 at 8:14 am #

    It isn’t work sites, it’s highways. Wyoming knows this. Energy workers have to drive in all weather conditions and often with inadequate sleep.

    Cody, Wyoming

    • Patrick Sheehy May 11, 2016 at 1:12 pm #

      Keith Collins is correct in regard to the matter of energy workers weary travel. A friend of a friend lost his life in a mishap connected with this problem. Anything that can be done to reduce highway deaths in Wyoming should be tried.

      Laramie, Wyoming

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