Thursday, July 9, 2009

A boost for a primary seatbelt law??

A primary seatbelt law may get a big boost from the industry and other safety advocates after data presented at a meeting of the Wyoming Worker Safety Task Force today (July 9) revealed that a high percentage of worker fatalities occur in crashes that involve workers who were not using seatbelts.

Wyoming requires the use of seatbelts. The law is not a primary requirement, however, and police officers cannot stop a driver simply for failure to buckle up.

Governor Dave Freudenthal formed the safety task force earlier this year. It has been focusing its work on Wyoming’s worst-in-the-nation worker fatality rate. Task Force Director Gary Hartman invited the Alaska office of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to assist the task force.

Dr. Paul Anderson of NIOSH presented fatality data he developed in conjunction with Tom Gallagher, director of the Research and Planning division of the Wyoming Department of Employment.

Anderson and others described the data as preliminary and warned that no recommendations should be developed from it. The fatality data needs further refining before recommendations should be made to the governor or the Wyoming legislature.

But the preliminary data revealed that more than half the workers killed from 2003-2007 died in crashes on highways or roads. About three-quarters of those crashes involved tractor-trailers or pickups, and many of those killed failed to use seatbelts.

Department of Transportation representatives at the meeting said the data reflects similar highway crash information compiled by the DOT. It shows again the need for a primary seatbelt law, they said.

Small company fatalities

Data presented by NIOSH’s Ryan Hill showed that the Wyoming oil and gas injury has a fatality rate roughly four times higher than the rate for all workers nationally. His data further revealed that the risk of fatality is much higher among small drilling industry companies (with fewer than 20 employees) than for mid-sized and large drilling companies.

EnCana’s Paul Ulrich said the number of oil and gas industry deaths is “embarrassing for Wyoming” and said his company wants to drive down the numbers. The data further shows that more than half “of our people aren’t wearing their damn seatbelts” while driving at work, Ulrich said.

Others at the meeting said they support setting up a central data collection point on workplace fatalities. Hartman said the task force may be able to obtain a grant to pay for that work. He strongly indicated he will recommend to the governor that the state pursue the grant and establish the office.

Marion Loomis of the Wyoming Mining Association said the task force needs to study the factors that precede to the crashes. Dr. George Conway of NIOSH said his group will look at work schedules, Circadian rhythms and other factors that may contribute to vehicle crashes as they investigate Wyoming’s fatalities further.