In 1994 I started working in health & safety at the United Rubber Workers. There was a rich tradition of health and safety at the URW and much work to be done. One project that I put on my list of things to do that first day was the OSHA case at Dayton Tire in Oklahoma City, OK. An Occupational Safety and Health Revision Commission (OSHRC) Decision was issued on September 10, 2010 on the case.
Bob Julian worked at Dayton Tire in Oklahoma City. In October 1993 he was killed when a tire assembly machine suddenly started. Every workplace death is a tragedy. This fatality related to lockout tagout of production equipment and became a much publicized case. Brother Julian’s death prompted a massive OSHA investigation and what at the time was the third highest proposed fine in history, almost $7.5 million in April 1994.
Dayton Tire appealed. The case was heard by an Administrative Law Judge. Department of Labor lawyers, outside counsel for the company, and the USW (at the time URW) Local Union 998L Vice President and Safety Chair Tony Carr participated in the process. In 1997 the administrative law judge issued a decision and reduced the fine significantly to $518,000. The case was appealed to the OSHRC.
Many years passed while the case was at the Review Commission. The case outlived the plant, which Bridgestone Firestone closed in late 2006. In a statement, Bridgestone Firestone pointed to the judge’s reduction of the fine as proof the case against the company has no merit.
Last week, seventeen years after the death of brother Julian, the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission issued a decision upholding all but one of the citations and assessing a penalty to Bridgestone/Firestone of $1,975,000. The case appears to have held its merit and did indeed uphold all but one of the OSHA citations on lockout tagout. The employer may appeal the decision of the Review Commission to the courts, so the case may not yet be finished.
This case provides one example of needed improvements to the OSHA enforcement process because workers shouldn’t have to wait for years and years for cases to be reviewed by the OSHRC. Other important improvements to the OSHA process are included in the Robert C. Byrd Miner Safety and Health Act of 2010. More information on this legislation is available from the AFL-CIO.
Workers in many workplaces continue to struggle to integrate effective lockout programs in their workplaces. Let’s hope that this decision helps them to protect their health and safety!
Submitted by Jim Frederick, USW TMC.