Changing the culture of safety in Wyoming

By Joan Evans, Director of the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services

The Wyoming Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was a part of the reorganization of the Department of Employment into the Department of Workforce Services (DWS) just over a year ago. And with this new role, DWS has taken on the important charge of shifting Wyoming’s record on workplace safety.

This is a serious task because Wyoming has plenty of room for improvement when it comes to workplace safety. But, we have lofty goals. We want Wyoming to lead. To accomplish this we need a collective effort by all employers and their employees to shift the safety culture for each and every individual working here in the Cowboy State.

We owe this commitment of safety to Wyoming’s people today, and to future generations. We owe them the assurance that they will return home safe and sound to family and friends, after a good, hard day’s work – every day.

I want to highlight just a few of DWS’s latest efforts to move our state in the right direction on workplace safety. It is my hope that Wyoming employers and employees participate, contribute their ideas, and partner to change the landscape of Wyoming’s workplaces.

The department recently hired a new State Occupational Epidemiologist, Dr. Mack Sewell, who began work on July 9 of this year. Governor Matt Mead established this position within DWS to ensure a closer tie to Wyoming OSHA, the Workers’ Compensation division, and the data compiled by the department’s Research and Planning division.

Dr. Sewell is highly regarded within epidemiology circles, and hails from New Mexico, where he served as State Epidemiologist and Director of the Office of Epidemiology since 1989. He is currently working on developing a data surveillance system that will be used to analyze trends in injuries and fatalities. The objective of Dr. Sewell’s analysis is to identify patterns and provide recommendations that would make Wyoming workplaces safer.

The Wyoming Safety Improvement Fund was established by H.B. 89/HEA 41 Workplace safety – employer assistance, which was passed by the Wyoming Legislature and signed into law by Governor Mead. The legislation, in part, set aside $500,000 for safety contracts available to employers. The fund, which is administered by DWS, offers employers grants of up to $10,000 with an employer match of 10 percent for the enhancement or implementation of workplace safety programs, or to buy safety equipment that is not already required. The fund is accepting applications from Wyoming employers for workplace safety contracts.

Another part of the legislation strengthened OSHA’s business partnering safety program. This measure gave Wyoming OSHA seven new safety consultants who are currently working in the field. The division’s safety consultants target potential hazards in employers’ business environments and improve occupational safety and health management systems at no cost to the employer. The OSHA safety and health consultation program is separate from the compliance inspection effort and no citations are issued or penalties proposed.

Additionally, Wyoming OSHA continues to identify and support safety partnerships like the recently formed refinery industry safety alliance, which is modeled after the Wyoming Oil and Gas Industry Safety Alliance (WOGISA). OSHA is currently in talks with the construction industry to develop a similar collaboration.

Wyoming OSHA is dedicated to their mission: to ensure that every worker has a safe workplace and to make certain that every worker and every employer has the information and the tools they need. That’s their job and they do it well, but they can’t do it alone. Changing the culture of safety in Wyoming won’t happen overnight — and it won’t be easy.

The Department of Workforce Services is committed to working towards a brighter future where workplace hazards are a thing of the past. We hope you will join us.