OKLAHOMA CITY-The U.S. Department of Labor has recommended fining Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. $7.5 million for alleged willful safety violations at its Dayton Tire unit that led to a worker's death last October. Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich personally delivered the citations April 18 to the Dayton Tire plant in Oklahoma City. The citations, issued by the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, recommended the maximum penalties possible.
``I find this case particularly outrageous and the actions of Bridgestone offensive and unjustifiable,'' Mr. Reich said in a statement. ``According to OSHA's investigations, not only did one worker die, but also approximately 100 others remain at risk because Bridgestone has intentionally chosen to ignore safety requirements designed to protect its employees.''
The plant was closed for one day when the government obtained a temporary restraining order April 18. The company had the order rescinded the next day and reopened the factory, which can produce 33,000 passenger and light truck tires a day.
BFS plans to appeal the citation, which calls for the third-largest penalty ever levied by OSHA.
The citations stem from an accident last Oct. 19 in which 50-year-old Robert Julian was killed when the tire assembly machine he was servicing accidently was turned on, according to the Labor Department statement. He suffered severe head injuries and died a few days later.
OSHA alleges Bridgestone/Firestone ``willfully violated OSHA's lockout/tagout standard, which requires employers to ensure that machinery is disconnected from its energy source and rendered inoperative before any repair, maintenance or servicing work begins.''
OSHA claims the tire maker, which employs 1,250 hourly workers at the plant, violated the standard by:
Failing to establish procedure that would have enabled workers to protect themselves;
Not providing workers with locks and other devices needed to implement a genuine lockout/tagout program;
Not requiring inspections to ensure that lockout/tagout procedures were being followed and equipment was being shut down during servicing; and
Failing to properly train all the employees at risk.
OSHA claimed 98 workers were in danger of serious injury as a result of the last failure, and a separate violation was cited for each exposed worker. Each of the alleged willful violations carries a proposed penalty of $70,000, the maximum permitted.
The agency also claimed there is evidence other employees at the plant have been injured while performing set-up or servicing operations, but didn't provide details.
Bridgestone/Firestone contends that the accident occurred in actual production, where there is no method to implement lockout/tagout standards. The company also defended its commitment to safety.
``The Dayton Tire management, as well as the management of Bridgestone/Firestone, is and will continue to be completely committed to providing a safe working environment for all of its associates,'' a BFS spokesman said.
According to the United Rubber Workers union, Thomas McQuiston, URW industrial hygiene director, urged Bridgestone/Firestone to implement programs to bring them into compliance immediately following the October accident.
Tony Carr, vice president and safety chairman of URW Local 998 at the Oklahoma City plant, also continued to meet with the company on this and other matters without success.
OSHA inspectors also broached the subject with plant management last August, before the fatal accident, union officials said.
But the Labor Department had no contact with Bridgestone/Firestone in the six months from shortly after the death until the citation was issued, according to the company spokesman.
``Until (April 18), we heard nothing from OSHA about the lockout/tagout issue creating an imminent danger for our employees,'' he said.
Bridgestone/Firestone's appeal will go before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.