A little more than two years have passed since the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Occupational Safety and Health program signed a joint settlement with Goodyear and the United Steelworkers to settle a whole array of violations stemming from four fatal accidents at the tire maker’s factory in Danville, Va.
Goodyear agreed to pay a $1.75 million fine, with $1 million of that going to Virginia and the remainder for Goodyear to use to abate the hazards VOSH found at the Danville factory and also implement a new health and safety management program. The tire maker and the USW, which represents hourly workers at the plant, also committed toward striving to qualify for the Virginia Voluntary Protection Program, which would place the facility as a national leader in occupational safety and health.
But when contacted to check on Goodyear’s progress, VOSH officials in a packet of information chronicling the actions taken since February 2017 rightfully started out by stating that it’s important to remember the four workers whose deaths in 2015 and 2016 were the catalysts for everything that has occurred since.
They told of Jeanie Lynne Strader, 56, who had been a lifelong resident of Pittsylvania County and was an accomplished pianist and a church goer. Of Kevin Waid Edmonds, 54, who loved living at the lake, his cats and his Harley Davidson Motorcycles. And Charles Gregory Cooper, who had served in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Coral Sea and was an avid NASCAR fan. And finally of William Christopher Scheier, 47, a devoted husband and baseball father and mentor who seldom missed a game.
The allegations in the original VOSH citations showed a pattern where hazardous conditions were ignored and no corrective actions taken, resulting in the fatalities.
In responses to questions about the progress the company has made since the settlement, Goodyear’s senior director of global environmental health, safety and sustainability, said an in-depth review of its safety processes and culture in early 2017 “revealed that we had not met our own expectations for safety leadership in Danville.”
Since that time, it appears that a good amount of progress has been made, though not without some bumps along the way. VOSH compliance teams have conducted four monitoring inspections, the first on April 4, 2017, and the most recent Aug. 20, 2018, which resulted in a pre-citation settlement agreement this past Jan. 28. The third inspection—conducted Sept. 19, 2017—identified a number of issues, nearly all concerning lockout/tagout abatement. That resulted in a joint agreement calling for $185,000 in penalties, with Goodyear able to use $100,000 of that to address identified hazards and to provide a training course focusing on lockout/tagout for a group of Danville employees, supervisors and managers.
In the most recent inspection, though, VOSH officials said there was significant improvement in overall safety at the Danville facility, and that it believed Goodyear “has acted in good faith during the abatement process.” In addition, VOSH said the company has taken preliminary steps for applying for Virginia STAR status.
For its part, Goodyear too said it is focused on what must be the goal of all safety and health programs: “ensuring every associate goes home safe, every day.”