Working at Goodyear Could be Downright Dangerous
47-year-old William Scheier was an electrician who had spent nearly six years working at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. He worked hard, trying to save up to build a three-bedroom home in Virginia for his family.
One day, Scheier went to work on the plant’s Alpha Shear, a large piece of machinery that cuts rubber for tires. Although safety requirements indicate that the machines must be shut off while they’re being operated on, that wasn’t always the case at the location which Scheier was employed, and the Alpha Shear was still running when he took his tools out.
Scheier attempted to adjust a switch and a moment later the cutting wheel on the machine came spiraling toward him, pinning him down. His chest was bruised and he had a puncture wound under his left arm. By the time emergency responders arrived and were able to administer CPR, it was too late to revive him.
“They won’t allow me to cut the machines off when I work,” Scheier’s brother, Robert, recalled William saying. “Company rules.” He added, “It got him like a flash of lightning. They’re looking to see how many tires they can get made. They don’t care about safety. He should have had the time to examine it. But time is money.”
Scheier isn’t the only one who has lost his life working at a Goodyear facility in recent years. In fact, five workers have died in Goodyear plants since August 2015 and four of these lost their lives in the company’s Danville plant. A fifth employee died at a plant in Topeka, Kansas.
A recent investigation by The Center for Investigative Reporting discovered that the tire company is one of the deadliest manufacturers in the nation for workers. And, in less than a decade, Goodyear has been fined more than $1.9 million for nearly 200 federal and state health and safety violations.
Employees aren’t the only ones losing their lives, either. There have been at least four motorists over the last seven years who’ve died in crashes after tires made at Goodyear plants failed. Not surprisingly, Danville was on the list of responsible plants.
After Scheier lost his life in Danville, investigators paid the company a visit and asked that the Alpha Shear be powered off so they could take a closer look. The answer was a resounding “no”. A company safety manager explained that doing so “would interfere with production.”
A search warrant eventually had to be issued in order for Goodyear to comply. “Any time you can’t cut the machine off when you’re working on it, you’re risking your life,” said Robert Scheier. “Production was No. 1 above everything.”
Ellis Jones, Goodyear’s senior director of global environmental health, safety and sustainability, said supervisors and union contracts instruct that “every member, every associate has the right to shut down a piece of equipment if they feel they’re in an unsafe condition.” He added, “Our policy is and has been that all machinery must be locked out when service is being performed.” Of Scheier’s death, Ellis said the protocol “was not followed in this instance.”
State workplace safety inspectors beg to differ, saying that their investigation found “Goodyear’s written procedures failed to fully lock out the alpha shears.”
In any case, Goodyear ended up acknowledging that Scheier lost his life because the rules hadn’t been followed. The company has agreed to pay $986,600 in damages.