Four workers died in one year alone at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. plant in Danville, Va., shown here in an aerial shot taken in 1997. Credit: Leon Townsend/Danville Register & Bee, AP Photo

A spokeswoman for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. has acknowledged an “unacceptable” safety record after a string of deadly accidents in its plants, but said the publicly traded company is committed to “worker safety and product quality.”

Over the past two years, we fell short of our own expectations for safety, and we mourn the loss of valued coworkers at two of our U.S. manufacturing plants,” Barbara Hatala, Goodyear’s communications manager for the Americas operations, said in a written statement Thursday. “This is unacceptable.”

Goodyear’s statement came in response to an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, which found that the company ranked among the top five manufacturers for worker deaths since 2009. Since August 2015, five Goodyear workers have been killed – four at its Virginia plant in one year alone.

Production demands and leaky roofs at Goodyear plants in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and Danville, Virginia, endangered both workers and consumers, Reveal’s investigation found.

This photo of a pit at Goodyear’s Danville, Va., plant was taken by police during their investigation of Charles “Greg” Cooper’s death. Cooper was found dead in a pit of wastewater at the plant.Credit: Courtesy of Danville Police Department

Tires involved in three fatal motor vehicle accidents since 2011 were made in North Carolina and Virginia. Police say a tire from the North Carolina plant caused a crash that killed two people in Texas, including 18-year-old Kerrybeth Hall, who was about to start college. Goodyear recalled that tire and over 40,000 like it, saying treads could separate and cause a wreck.

John Gsanger, an attorney who represented Hall’s family in a lawsuit over the fatal accident, told Reveal: “The shocking collapse of safety controls at Goodyear’s plants has inflicted immeasurable losses on the many families of Goodyear customers killed in avoidable tragedies.”

Goodyear, Hatala said, is working hard to improve and does not shortchange the safety of its workers or its tires. “Our entire workforce, from the shop floor to senior leadership, is united in building a stronger, safer Goodyear.”

Reveal found that since October 2008, Goodyear has been fined more than $1.9 million for nearly 200 health and workplace safety violations, far more than its four major competitors combined. In interviews, several former employees said they felt pressure to put production before workplace safety. Others recalled a quota-driven motto invoked on the shop floor: “Round and black and out the back.”

“Nothing is more important at Goodyear than safety, and there is never a ‘finish line’ to our safety obligations,” Hatala said. “We will continue to work tirelessly to eliminate workplace injuries at all Goodyear facilities. Our goal is to ensure everyone goes home safely, every day.”

The statement from Hatala said product quality “is equally essential to what we do.”

“Our tires undergo rigorous testing and inspection throughout the product release and production process to ensure our specifications are met. And before they are shipped, our tires are tested for uniformity, visually inspected and evaluated to make sure they conform to our rigorous standards. We also continuously monitor the performance of our tires in the field to confirm the integrity of our products.”

Jennifer Gollan can be reached at jgollan@revealnews.org. Follow her on Twitter: @jennifergollan.

Jennifer Gollan

Jennifer Gollan is an Emmy Award-winning reporter for Reveal.

Gollan has reported on topics ranging from oil companies that dodge accountability for workers’ deaths to shoddy tire manufacturing practices that killed motorists. She uncovered rampant exploitation and abuse of caregivers in the burgeoning elder care-home industry. The series, Caregivers and Takers, prompted a congressional hearing and new state legislation. Gollan also exposed how Navy shipbuilders received billions in public money even after their workers were killed or injured, spurring a new federal law and a review by the Pentagon.

Gollan’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Associated Press, The Guardian US and Politico Magazine, as well as on PBS NewsHour and Al Jazeera English’s “Fault Lines” program. Her honors include a national Emmy Award, a Hillman Prize for web journalism, two Sigma Delta Chi Awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, a National Headliner Award, a Gracie Award and two Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing awards. Gollan is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.