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Published: Thursday, 6/11/2009

Titan Tire hit with $140,000 in penalties


BRYAN A factory here that manufactures giant tires has been slapped with $140,000 in new fines for two willful violations of workplace safety regulations following inspections begun after a steam explosion last November hurled a 5,000-pound piece of equipment through the ceiling and onto the plant s roof.

An employee was injured slightly in the Nov. 23 explosion at Titan International Tire Corp. s Williams County facility in Bryan.

Follow-up inspections by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration found engineering problems and equipment failures relating to the factory s tire curing equipment.

The inspections revealed that four of the units that use 6.4 million pounds of pressure to compress rubber and metal into 63-inch, 13,000-pound tires were not adequately proof-tested and had welds of insufficient quality or strength to handle the exerted pressure.

The fines are in addition to $24,500 worth levied last week by OSHA s Toledo office in response to four serious violations of worker safety laws at the company s Bryan facility. The serious violations were a direct result of an inspection ordered after OSHA officials read in The Blade about the Nov. 23 steam explosion, OSHA area director Jule Hovi said.

The willful violations, which each carry the agency s maximum fine of $70,000, were discovered after an internal referral sent inspectors back to the Bryan facility in February. Willful violations are considered the most egregious and carry the agency s highest penalties.

Titan Tire officials had not reported the Nov. 23 steam explosion but were not required to do so, Ms. Hovi said. Employers are not obligated to call unless there is a fatality or at least three people have been hospitalized, she said.

The tire manufacturer, based in Quincy, Ill., is contesting the fines.

The willful violations allege that Titan exposed its employees to dangerous situations because it placed four tire curing units into initial service without testing and the return of those units to service, after repairs and/or modifications to critical components, without testing to assure safe operations.

They also allege that the company failed to assure that modifications and repairs it made to the four tire curing units were made consistent with the industry codes and design specifications.

A curing unit resembles a large clam shell. It uses intense pressure and heat to mold layers of rubber and metal belts into a finished tire.

The four tire curing units cited in the two complaints do not include the one that was the source of the steam explosion in November, Ms. Hovi said.

Cherie Holley, Titan s vice president and in-house counsel, could not be reached for comment regarding the violations.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at: lvellequette@theblade.comor 419-724-6091.

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