DANVILLE, Va.—Two years after reaching a settlement with Virginia regarding the accidental deaths of four workers at its Danville plant, Goodyear said it is progressing with creating a safer work environment at the facility.
"An in-depth review of our safety processes and culture in early 2017 revealed that we had not met our own expectations for safety leadership in Danville," said Ellis Jones, Goodyear senior director, global environmental health, safety and sustainability.
"As a result, we are focused on improving our safety systems, including equipment, training and processes, as well as implementing a serious injury prevention program and a safety leadership curriculum for all plant leaders at the site."
Goodyear reached a $1.75 million settlement with the Virginia Department of Occupational Safety and Health on Feb. 28, 2017. The agreement was to settle 150 proposed citations connected with the following deaths at the Danville facility:
• Jeanie Lynne Strader, 56, caught in machine rollers on Aug. 31, 2015;
• Kevin Waid Edmunds, 54, pinned between a wall and a pallet containing 3,500 pounds of rubber on March 31, 2016;
• Charles Gregory Cooper, 53, who fell into a pit sump containing scalding water and oil on April 12, 2016; and
• William Christopher Scheier, 47, killed while performing maintenance on an alpha shear machine on Aug. 12, 2016.
In addition to the cash settlement, Goodyear and United Steelworkers Union Local 831, which represents hourly workers at the Danville facility, committed to successfully completing the application process for membership in the Virginia Voluntary Protection program. Thus far, VOSH said Goodyear has taken preliminary steps for applying for Virginia's STAR status and also is considering the formal Virginia Challenge process. The latter is a three-stage process that provides participants a road map to making its work site one of the safest and healthiest in the nation, according to the state agency.
Jones said Goodyear is "progressing along with the VPP process as planned in Danville, leveraging best practices and learnings from four Goodyear sites that have achieved VPP Star Status as well as other VPP mentor organizations within Virginia."
The agreement also set out an orderly process for eliminating the more than 1,400 workplace hazards VOSH inspectors identified at Danville, according to the agency. Goodyear retained up to $750,000 in penalties to abate the hazards and assist efforts in meeting VPP requirements, it said.
"The agreement required Goodyear and the United Steelworkers to jointly prioritize each violation," VOSH said. The company and the union would assign each violation to be Category 1 (to be abated within 30 days), Category 2 (within 90 days) or Category 3 (within 180 days), it said.
VOSH inspectors found in an April 4, 2017, inspection that all Category 1 violations had been corrected except for certain lockout/tagout (LOTO) violations, the agency said. Goodyear asked for an extension on the LOTO violations, which the agency granted with a deadline of Aug. 18, 2017. On June 5, inspectors found that all Category 2 violations had been abated, VOSH said.
A third inspection on Sept. 19, 2017, produced a mixed bag, according to VOSH.
"The overwhelming majority of non-LOTO violations were abated," the agency said. '(But) the VOSH compliance team identified a number of issues during the third monitoring inspection, all but one of which concerned LOTO abatement."
The violations resulted in $185,000 in penalties, with $85,000 paid to the state and the rest retained by Goodyear to abate the violations and provide a LOTO-related training course for Danville employees, supervisors and managers, the agency said.
A fourth inspection on Aug. 28, 2018, identified non-LOTO issues that were potentially serious, VOSH said. Nevertheless, the agency found that Goodyear had acted in good faith throughout the abatement process, it said.
Goodyear and VOSH entered into a joint pre-citation settlement agreement on the new violations dated Jan. 28, 2019, according to the agency.
Goodyear is contesting the abatement dates, and the case remains open, VOSH said. The joint agreement will be submitted to the Danville Circuit Court for review, it said.
Jones said Goodyear has addressed all the conditions identified in the fourth inspection, including issues.
"There will never be a 'finish line' to our safety obligations, and we continue to work hard every day to identify and remediate hazards in the workplace," he said. "Based on our recent safety performance and thanks to the engagement from all associates, our safety improvement strategy is moving us in the right direction."
Meanwhile, as part of the February 2017 consent agreement, Goodyear agreed to host three Virginia VPP Best Practices Days, VOSH said.
The first Best Practices Day, held Sept. 13, 2017, dealt with machine guarding and hosted more than 160 registered attendees, according to the agency. The second, held Sept. 12, 2018, dealt with LOTO and had more than 150 registered attendees, it said. The third, on electrical and confined space hazards, will be held sometime in 2019.
"Best Practices Days give the opportunity for Danville associates to share lessons learned from their safety journey and to benchmark with other leaders in the safety field," Jones said. "It has been rewarding for our Danville team to share their experiences with peer organizations while learning from others to improve their site."
Jeff Dixon, president of USW Local 831, said the union was pleased with the progress of the joint safety efforts with Goodyear and VOSH, but declined further comment.