It's a strange juxtaposition that the Rubber Manufacturers Association released its 2016 Safety and Health Improvement Program at the same time investigations are ongoing into the deaths of two workers within two weeks at Goodyear's tire factory in Danville, Va.
On March 31, 54-year-old Kevin Edmonds was killed in what was termed an industrial accident. Just 12 days later, 52-year-old Greg Cooper died from burns and drowning. Those accidents follow a third fatality at Danville in August, when 56-year-old Jeanie Strader was killed when she was caught in machine rollers. Goodyear and the United Steelworkers, which represent workers at the tire plant, jointly are conducting one investigation into the latest accident, while the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health Administration and local police officials also are conducting probes.
That comes as investigations continue into Edmonds' death. OSHA fined Goodyear nearly $17,000 for what was deemed three serious violations found after the agency completed its inspection following the August 2015 fatality.
These tragedies underscore just how dangerous it can be working in a tire factory environment, where safety never can be taken for granted. Even with all proper safeguards in place, the series of incidents at the Danville plant show how important it is that safety procedures and training be followed and continually re-emphasized.
The RMA instituted its Safety and Health Improvement Program—or SHIP for short—in 1981 as a way to encourage and reward RMA members' commitment to worker health and safety. It breaks awards into two categories, based on the incidence rate for lost workday cases.
An “Excellence” mark goes to those facilities that rate 75 percent better than the average of the plants providing data to the RMA. The “Improvement” award goes to those with a rate that is both 10 percent better than its rate the prior year and is the same or better than the RMA average incidence rate.
Of the 45 sites providing data in this past year, seven received “Excellence” awards and 13 “Improvement.” Four Goodyear plants received the “Improvement” mark.
Following the latest fatality in Danville, Goodyear acted properly by closing the factory for three days to complete a full evaluation of the factory and to investigate the incident. When the plant reopened, at the start of each shift plant employees participated in a two-hour safety meeting and were given the chance to ask questions and share comments.
It also is important Goodyear and the USW are working together on the probe. Tire companies and the USW long have worked together on joint health and safety programs, continuing efforts that date back decades to when the United Rubber Workers represented tire plant employees.
As Mike Wright, USW director of health, safety and the environment, made clear, it is vital for both to get to the “root causes and other contributing factors” of the fatal accidents. That way, the safety of workers can be protected going forward.