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Published: Friday, 8/13/2004

State unit cites port authority in fatality

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

An airport worker who died after a pressurized tire rim exploded and struck him was not trained, and the airport did not have the correct equipment to protect him, investigators with the Ohio Public Employment Risk Reduction program have ruled.

The state investigated the Feb. 23 death of Brian Bergeon, 34, and cited the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, which runs Toledo Express Airport, for nine "serious" violations, meaning ones that could lead to someone's death.

Mr. Bergeon, who lived in Whitehouse, was trying to repair a 40-inch tire from a passenger boarding bridge when it shot from the center and hit him. The tire rim moved with such force it damaged the roof of the 20-foot ceiling after it hit Mr. Bergeon and sent him flying backward, said Michael Rea, assistant bureau chief for the investigating agency.

If left unaddressed, each violation would carry a $10,000 fine. The violations are related to rules that require employers to properly train workers to deal with "stored energy sources," such as a tire under pressure. There was no training.

"I would expect them to train their employees in the dismantling of any type of tire and review it with employees," Mr. Rea said.

No one individually was cited and the port authority has 14 days, if it chooses, to contest the citations. "If they do not contest, we will expect to have a [corrective] plan," Mr. Rea said.

A copy of the state's report was obtained yesterday by The Blade. It had been given to the port authority on Aug. 3.

The Lucas County coroner's office said that it appeared Mr. Bergeon removed the valve stem from the tire and was forcing air into the tire in order to break the seal and separate it from the rim. He was standing on the tire, hitting it with a rubber mallet to get the tire away from the rim, when it appears the tire exploded.

The tire manufacturer, Bridgestone, cautioned against deflating tires without using a cage that fits

around the tire and is anchored, Mr. Rea said. But the airport had no cage large enough for the task, and it did not train or properly anticipate the need to train its workers on how to handle the tires, the report concluded.

"This is pretty straightforward stuff. A safety cage would have been an excellent piece of equipment," Mr. Rea said.

Port authority President Jim Hartung did not have a comment yesterday. He has not discussed the findings yet with Airports Director Paul Toth, port authority spokesman Brian Schwartz said.

Mr. Bergeon, who was alone in the port authority maintenance building when he died at about 1:30 a.m., is the only worker to have died at facilities run by the port authority, Mr. Schwartz said.

A co-worker discovered him and called for assistance. A helicopter from St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center was sent to the airport, and a physician pronounced him dead at the scene.

Mr. Bergeon, who'd worked at the airport since 1997, was one of 15 maintenance workers. He was a 1988 graduate of Swanton High School, married, and had three children.

Normally, the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) investigates workplace accidents. But because Mr. Bergeon was a government employee, the investigation was done by the Worker Safety Division of the state Department of Commerce, which runs the Public Employment Risk Reduction program.

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick at ckirkpatrick@theblade.com

or 419-724-6077.



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