A truck tire service technician is a unique breed of worker in the sense that sometimes he must use unconventional steps to finish the job. And while there are OSHA regulations in place to govern the procedures for demounting, mounting and inflating, and handling these assemblies, there are occasions where the technician thinks it is necessary to more or less ignore the rules in order to get the truck back on the road.
On assemblies that have been in service for an extended period of time, the buildup of rust between the rim and beads makes it almost impossible to demount the tire. For years, technicians have used a special bead lubricant to break down the rusty assemblies and make the job much easier. In fact, these compounds are so effective that their use has almost become commonplace in some shops because it's human nature to use the path of least resistance.
Proponents of these products overlook the flammable properties for a number of reasons. Leading the list is the fact that OSHA regulations only prohibit the use of flammable bead lubricants in the mounting process. Technicians will point to the fact that since they use them to demount the tires, they are not violating any laws. Conveniently overlooked is the fact that OSHA also has strict guidelines for the storage of flammable materials, not to mention the personal protective equipment rules that probably require the use of a breathing apparatus when using these types of materials. After all, technicians have to get the job done, so what's the harm in a flammable container that has been improperly stored and a few noxious fumes once in a while?
But another risk that is related to the use of flammable bead lubricants has come to light; hopefully, it will be enough to convince the industry to eliminate their use altogether. During the recent Global Tire Expo in Las Vegas, the Tread Rubber and Tire Repair Materials Manufacturers Group (TRMG) released a study on the causes of chamber fires in the pre-cure retread process. A chamber is basically a giant pressure cooker that vulcanizes the tread rubber to the casing by combining heat and pressure over an extended period of time. According to the TRMG study, when flammable bead lubricants are used to demount tires, residue in the rubber can spark a very dangerous (and expensive) fire that destroys the chamber as well as its contents.
Now that this study has been published, insurance companies will certainly look to start recouping their losses when a chamber fire can be traced to the use of these compounds. If the fleet is doing its own tire service, a simple visit to the maintenance facility or a review of purchasing records will be all the evidence they need to place the blame. And if the tire service vendor is using flammable bead lubricants and a chamber fire results in a million-dollar loss because the entire plant burns to the ground, it's not too far-fetched to think that the lawyers will go after everyone even remotely connected to the claim.
While technicians will complain that there are no alternatives to flammable bead lubricants, there are products on the market that are almost as effective without the associated health and fire risks. In fact, it's been my experience that they are not even necessary most of the time, so the elimination of these products should have minimal impact on productivity. Fleets should make sure that flammable bead lubricants are not used in their facilities or on their tires for any reason.
Kevin Rohlwing can be reached at [email protected]