Date posted: July 25, 2014
Re: Time to get serious about worker safety
This letter is to the citizens of Wyoming and elected officials in the state and is in response to the worker safety statistics addressed by the Casper Star-Tribune editorial board in its May 19 editorial (“Time for lawmakers to restart worker safety conversation”). Its wake-up call was for our lawmakers to aggressively push the state and its industries to build a safer environment for Wyoming workers.
Our letter is from an entirely different perspective. Our beloved son, grandson, nephew, cousin and friend was one of the 35 workers killed on a job site in Wyoming in 2012. The accident was needless and unnecessary and would not have happened if basic safety guidelines had been followed. Brett Samuel Collins was 20 years old, lived in Ranchester and died less than 48 hours before he was to go back to college full time.
We do understand that the state of Wyoming is attempting to improve its dismal worker safety record. More Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors have been hired to be more accessible to job site inspections. A $500,000 fund has been created to assist companies in purchasing equipment. Efforts are being made to make workers aware that they can personally report safety concerns to OSHA. It is questionable whether the last will happen, as it is likely the employee would feel as though their employment could be jeopardized if they reported safety concerns or violations. As Brett’s father says, what 19- or 20-year-old is going to report his boss to OSHA?
These Band-Aid measures have made our legislators feel good about what the state of Wyoming is doing for its workers. These measures are not for Wyoming workers at all. They are for Wyoming businesses and industries that contribute copious amounts of money to political campaigns. Our family feels that attacking the problem from the other side could have a definite effect on worker safety statistics. Any safety violation that causes a facility would result in an automatic $50,000 fine. This “fatality fine” is non-negotiable. No hearings, no lawyers, no negotiations, no settlements. No, no, no.
The statistics for worker deaths in 2012 included: transportation sector, 16; agriculture, five; construction, three; the oil and gas industry, three; and “other,” four. Each case would need to be examined individually, but only a few of those cases could even be potentially examined for the fatality fine. Therefore, the state would not be getting rich from this proposed legislation. The fatality fine could go directly to the Victim Compensation Fund.
In the accident that killed Brett, OSHA initially reported five safety violations. Three of those violations were classified as serious. The initial penalty issued was for $13,860. One of the violations was deleted. Through a series of many legal meetings and negotiations the final fine was reduced to $6,773. What a travesty. A life so full of possibilities was lost, and the fine for multiple serious violations was negotiated to less than the price of a junky used car. As a family, how do you think that makes us feel? We all wake up every day knowing that we will never see his silly grin or hear his infectious laugh. Our lives were changed forever on Aug. 20, 2012. We will never be the same.
We have contacted a personal friend on the state Legislature’s Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee about our proposal. We intend to contact every person on that committee before their next meeting in September. We have drafted a letter that will be sent to all legislators. We need someone to get behind us on this fatality fine proposed legislation and make it a reality.
Our intention in proposing this legislation is not to put anyone out of business, but to try to make companies and those that operate their equipment practice safety always! Every minute of every day. A wake-up call that will hit where it hurts seems to be the only answer now. The statistics for worker safety in the state of Wyoming remain deplorable and among the worst in the nation. Any suggestions to help us in our endeavor will be appreciated.
Charles and Kimberly Collins, Ranchester
Mary Jane Collins, Sheridan
Editor’s note: The word limit for the above letter was waived. The commentary was also published in the Casper Star-Tribune this month.