A recent investigation and report is questioning the commitment of multi-national tire maker Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company to safety. Unfortunately, their concerns run to both the customers who buy their tires as well as the people who make their various products. Over the course of six months, researchers looked at hundreds of state and federal documents and court records and they conducted numerous interviews with current and former Goodyear employees, including some from the four Goodyear facilities in Texas, in Beaumont, Houston, San Angelo and Bayport.
The picture they received is one of a company that puts more pressure on its employees to produce product than to follow workplace safety policies and regulations. Besides a troubling number of tire failures over the years, their approach to production is such that workers for the company are under such pressure to meet production quotas that safety becomes an afterthought. Workers told researchers about having to work through leaky roofs and water all over the shop. Some spoke of a motto at one shop, at least, “Round and black and out the back,” which meant, roughly, to do whatever was necessary to finish the tires, put them on the truck and ship them out.
Placing Production Over Consumer Safety
While putting so much pressure on Goodyear workers obviously makes safety in the workplace a problem, there are signs that it may be affecting the quality of their product. For example, in 2011, about seven months after a failed Goodyear Wrangler Silent Armor tire was cited as a cause of a fatal accident in West Texas in August 2011, the company recalled more than 40,000 of the tires. As part of the recall notice filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Goodyear warned drivers who purchased the tires that, “Use of these tires in severe conditions could result in partial tread separation which could lead to vehicle damage or a motor vehicle crash.” They also claimed that they had been monitoring problems with the Silent Armor tires since at least May 2010, which was at least 15 months before the deadly accident.
In another accident involving Goodyear tires, a driver in Michigan, Harry Patel, was left a paraplegic after an accident in 2012, in which the tread on the Goodyear tires on his Nissan Pathfinder separated, causing the vehicle to flip and land in a ditch. During a trial in which Patel was awarded $16 million, testimony indicated that Goodyear had ramped up production on the tires and bypassed some safety controls, thus compromising the quality of its tires.
A Lax Approach to Workplace Safety
As researchers pointed out, there are two problems here. In addition to having to produce tires that are safe for everyone on the road, the tire manufacturing process is hazardous under the best of circumstances. For that reason, the process requires a vigilant approach to safety controls. Many plants are as large as 50 football fields and workers use massive machines capable of causing serious or fatal injuries. Also, the plants can be dirty. Sometimes, grinding machines can spew fine dust and grime onto workers, which can sometimes get into their bodies. Some workers likened working at a Goodyear tire plant with working in a coal mine, with stories of black residue oozing through their pores or blowing their nose and seeing black film coming out.
The record is not encouraging. Since August 2015, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) records show that five Goodyear workers have been killed, including four at one particular plant in Virginia in the course of a single year. Besides the deaths, there have been a troubling number of workplace accidents, often followed by full-fledged clashes between plant managers and OSHA and other safety investigators. Company managers admitted to researchers that they routinely ignored problems with workplace safety. In addition, between October 2008 and November 2017, OSHA has cited Goodyear plants for 198 safety violations and fined the company about $2 million. Both of those numbers are far higher than the numbers at comparable tire plants.
In addition to federal OSHA citations, Goodyear has also settled several cases brought by the Virginia Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health program for hazardous conditions at its Danville plant in that state. Over just 18 months, the agency conducted four fatal and two non-fatal accident investigations, three investigations based on employee complaints and a wall-to-wall comprehensive investigation. Throughout those examinations, they cited numerous hazards at the plant, including some that led to the deaths of four workers at the plant, all in separate incidents, within the course of one year. As part of the settlements on these citations, Goodyear admitted having violated workplace safety laws and regulations more than 100 times and they agreed to a reduced fine of $1.75 million.
Continued Problems Cited By Officials
Researchers also noted the chronic nature of some of the workplace hazards at Goodyear plants. For example, a number of Goodyear plants have holes in the floors that have never been covered and others lack standard railings. In many cases, investigators found oil leaking from machines and covering the floors, creating slipping hazards.
Every employer has a duty to make sure every workplace under their control is safe and that every worker go home unhurt at the end of every workday. Sometimes, however, companies decide that increased production and/or profit is more important than taking the steps necessary to keep everyone safe and workers suffer. Likewise, every manufacturer has a duty to make their products as safe as possible for end-users. If a company is not keeping the public and their workers as safe as possible, they should be held responsible for the injuries, damages and wrongful deaths they cause.