OPP, Ala. — Neal Tindol Tire L.L.C. owner Neal Tindol plans to speak with representatives from the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on June 29 in an effort to plead for a reduced fine in the aftermath of an investigation into a workplace fatality earlier this year.
Michael J. Wise, 45, was killed Jan. 18 when a tire exploded as he leaned in to check it while working at Neal Tindol Tire in Opp. The tire struck the mechanic, according to Tindol, before flying up, crashing through and landing on the roof of the tire shop.
OHSA said it will impose a penalty of $14,511 as a result of its investigation that found the company exposed "workers to struck-by hazards by allowing workers to remain in an unsafe area while inflating tires," as well as "for failing to prevent workers from inflating tires above the manufacturer's maximum recommended pressure."
OSHA inspectors determined that the air compressor that Wise and another worker were using had been set to inflate the tire to 110 psi. The trailer tire that exploded had a maximum load-carrying capacity of 35 psi.
Tindol said he wasn't present when the incident occurred.
"I've been in this business for 41 years, and we've never once had a single case of overinflating a tire," Tindol told Tire Business.
"That's not the way we do things," he said. "We have a lot of respect for air pressure and the damage it can cause."
Tindol said Wise had been working at his shop for a couple of months and had experience working at other area shops. Another person working with Wise was uninjured in the explosion.
Neal Tindol Tire posted a tribute to Wise on its Facebook page a day after the incident.
"Mike is remembered as charismatic, talented and kind, with the ability to lift your spirits with his smile and presence," the tire shop's post said. "In the short time he was employed with us, he became part of our family and is deeply missed by everyone here this morning. This tragedy is a solemn reminder to cherish those you have in your life and to make the most of every day we have here on earth."
OHSA said it determined the tire shop allowed employees to inflate tires on single-piece rim wheels without using a required restraining device or barrier for protection against tire explosion.
"This happened right by the safety cage," Tindol said. "The tire was small and would have fit in there easily."
Jose Gonzelez, OSHA area office director in Mobile, Ala., said tire manufacturers' recommendations and federal workplace safety rules exist to prevent tragedies such as this.
"In this case, Neal Tindol Tire failed to make sure required safety procedures to protect employees were in place and followed, leaving the worker's family, friends and co-workers to grieve a needless death," Gonzalez said in a statement.
Neal Tindol Tire has been operating in Opp since 1998. It distributes, sells and installs new and used tires for cars, pick-ups, semi-trucks and tractors. The company has a 40,000-sq.-ft tire storage warehouse.
According to OHSA, the tire shop has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. Tindol and/or his advisors plan to make a plea for leniency later this month.
"We don't want our people to cut corners to do the job faster," Tindol said. "We want our mechanics to do the job fast and do it right, safely."