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Unicoi tire plant cited for OSHA violations in May accident that killed worker

Sue Guinn Legg • Jul 24, 2018 at 8:20 PM

UNICOI — Specialty Tires of Unicoi has entered a settlement agreement with the Tennessee Department of Labor to resolve two occupational safety violations found in an investigation of a May accident that killed a Johnson City man employed as a mechanic at the tire plant.

According to a summary report by the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Ben Shew, a 33-year-old father of two, was killed around 4 a.m. on May 8 when he became entangled in the moving arms of an assembly machine while attempting to tighten a loose bolt.

The report states Shew and a helper had completed a welding repair on a flap of the machine with the power locked out. Ten to 15 minutes after the power lockout was removed from to the machine, Shew noticed a loose bolt, climbed onto a working platform and reached down to tighten the bolt.

“At that time, the machine began movement and caught Mr. Shew” between a stacker arm that moves in a circular motion around a motor, a pendulum arm that moves from side to side, the motor and the platform.

The TSOHA inspection was conducted at the plant on the same date and resulted in the Department of Labor’s issuance of two citations for “serious violations” of state safety regulations and two related monetary penalties totaling $6,800.

According to a notice of the citations and penalties issued by the department on July 18, the violations were:

• Failure “to develop, document and utilize an energy control procedure to ensure employees are protected from the unexpected startup or release of stored energy when performing maintenance tasks.”

• Failure to “conduct annual or more frequent inspections of the energy control control program” to “ensure employees compliance with and understanding of the program.”

In keeping with terms set out in the citation notice, Specialty Tires corrected the violations and conducted an informal conference with the department that resulted in a settlement agreement dated July 13.

The settlement included the company’s agreement not to contest the violations, the company and the department’s agreement not to reduce the monetary penalties and the department’s agreement to reduce of the violations’ type to "other than serious."

Chris Cannon, director of communications for the department, said TOSHA policy also required a follow-up inspection to assure both violations are corrected.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.

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