Montana Now Deadliest Places to Work

By Beacon Staff

Wyoming no longer is the nation’s deadliest place to work, a dubious distinction that now belongs to Montana.

The number of workers killed on the job in Montana increased from 40 in 2008 to 50 in 2009, according to figures released Thursday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That’s up 25 percent for a rate of one death per 19,500 people of all ages, more than three-and-a-half times the U.S. average of one per 70,739.

In 2008, Montana ranked fourth for workplace deaths per capita.

In Wyoming, the number of workplace deaths fell from 33 to 19, a decline of more than one-third that resulted mainly from a slowdown in the state’s gas industry.

Wyoming now ranks third for workplace deaths per capita.

Nationwide, the number of workplace deaths last year fell 17 percent to the lowest number since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking workplace fatalities in 1992.

The director of Montana’s Safety and Health Bureau, Bryan Page, did not return messages Thursday. As in most states, traffic accidents were the biggest cause of workplace deaths in Montana, accounting for 44 percent of deaths on the job.

In Alaska, workplace deaths declined almost by half from 2008 to 2009, from 33 to 17. Alaska’s workplace fatality rate fell from second-worst in the U.S. to 10th worst.

In western Wyoming, heavy gas drilling brought heavy truck traffic — and accidents — to two-lane routes such as U.S. 191 near the Jonah Field. Some now call the treacherous highway the “Jonah 500.”

Gas drilling began to slow down in 2008. But industry-related accidents have remained high, recently prompting companies to form the Wyoming Oil and Gas Industry Safety Alliance.

The group held its first meeting in July.

“They’ve been aware that industry has a lot of work to do in this area because we were killing workers at four times the national average. I don’t think they took this lightly, I think they took it very seriously,” said Gary Hartman, workplace safety adviser to Gov. Dave Freudenthal.

All oil and gas companies in Wyoming need to take part in a “cultural shift” to improve workplace safety, said Paul Ulrich, a spokesman for Encana Oil & Gas.

“Little things, such as wearing your seat belt, wearing your fall protection. You know, situational awareness in general is critical,” Ulrich said. “We need to continue to provide enhanced training, enhanced awareness and incentives for them to be practicing safe operations.”

North Dakota moved up from having the third-worst to second-worst workplace fatality rate, although the number of workplace deaths there dropped from 28 to 25 and North Dakota’s rate of deaths on the job declined slightly as well.

North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance, which is North Dakota’s workers compensation agency, provides workplace safety training, grants and other incentives to employers to try to reduce injuries and deaths in the workplace, said agency director Bryan Klipfel.

“I think that’s one of the reasons why our injury and fatality rates and so forth have kind of stayed fairly similar within the last couple of years,” Klipfel said.

He said job-related traffic deaths, particularly in western North Dakota’s booming oil fields, remain a problem.

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