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Mine Safety Agency Cites Tire, Mining Companies in Worker's Death

Purcell Tire & Rubber Co. said it will contest citations from the Mine Safety & Health Administration over the Oct. 28, 2011, death of a mining tire technician at the Newmont USAgold mine in Carlin, Nevada.

July 24, 2012
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Purcell Tire & Rubber Co. said it will contest citations from the Mine Safety & Health Administration, or MSHA, over the Oct. 28, 2011, death of a mining tire technician at the Newmont USA gold mine in Carlin, Nevada.

Purcell Tire is the mining tire contractor for Newmont at the Carlin mine. Joe Ashdown, a 21-year-old Purcell employee, was repairing a Bridgestone off-road tire from the inside when he was overcome by fumes from trichloroethylene glue.

The MSHA defines trichloroethylene as a halogenated hydrocarbon used as a solvent. It is a colorless liquid with a chloroform-like odor that evaporates as the glue dries, according to Chemical Abstracts Service, a division of the American Chemical Society, which states overexposure to trichloroethylene can cause central-nervous-system depression with symptoms of headache, dizziness, stupor, loss of consciousness or death.

Ashdown was not wearing a respirator when he was working on the tire, as he should have been, the MSHA said in its report on Ashdown's death. Because of the massive size of the tire, his colleagues did not immediately see him lying unconscious inside it. Ashdown was pronounced dead about an hour after he was discovered, the MSHA said.

The agency determined that Ashdown, who had been with Purcell Tire for only 39 weeks and four days, had been inadequately trained to deal with this situation.

"The accident occurred due to mine and contract management's failure to provide adequate procedures and controls to protect persons working with toxic chemicals," the agency said.

"Management failed to install proper engineering controls to control chemical vapors in the work area, provide appropriate respiratory protection, and conduct surveys verifying the adequacy of controls," the MSHA said. "Ashdown did not receive instruction in the safety and health aspects and safe work procedures of the task of repairing tires using trichloroethylene glue."

Robert Purcell, CEO and chairman of Purcell Tire, said in a written statement that Ashdown was "a valued member of the Purcell family." However, he said the company strongly disputes the conclusions the MSHA reached in its investigation.

"Over its 76-year history, Purcell has had an outstanding safety record, and Purcell takes very seriously the responsibility to protect the safety and health of its employees," Purcell said. The company will request a hearing before an administrative law judge, he said.

The MSHA will assess penalties against Purcell and Newmont in the coming weeks, according to an agency spokeswoman. The largest penalty the MSHA can levey for a flagrant safety violation is $220,000, she said.

Miles Moore writes for Tire Business. a sister publication of Workforce Management. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.

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