- Photo by Timothy Cox, The Statehouse File.
- Indiana Department of Labor Commission Lori Torres pointed out the spot Wednesday where a stagehand was located when the rigging collapsed before a concert last summer at the Indiana State Fair.
By Timothy Cox
The Indiana Department of Labor announced Wednesday that three groups will be fined a total of $80,800 for workplace violations that could have contributed to the Indiana State Fair stage collapse on Aug. 13 that resulted in seven fatalities.
A 175-day investigation by the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration found the Indiana State Fair Commission, a union representing stagehands, and Mid-America Sound Corporation in violation of safety and health standards.
Mid-America, the company that made the load-bearing roof that collapsed, received the largest penalty at $63,000.
But company officials said later that they warned the Indiana State Fair Commission that the roof should not be used if wind speed reached 25 mph. Also, Mid-America said one of its employees warned the commission and Sugarland management to evacuate.
"On the evening of the incident one of our employees reconfirmed with state fair leadership that if there was lightening or wind speeds of 40 mph or more, the area should be evacuated," said Myra Borshoff Cook, a spokeswoman for Mid-America.
"Despite these warnings, the Indiana State Fair Commission, who controlled the venue, and Sugarland, who controlled the concert, refused to postpone the concert and failed to implement an evacuation plan away from the temporary roof structure," she said.
Mid-America officials said they will contest the fines which the state imposed for multiple violations. Among them: a failure to consider the soil of the fairgrounds when constructing the roof and not using up-to-date engineering documents and calculations.
State officials did not blame any of the organizations for the fatalities, but they said all are accountable for safety violations that might have contributed to the incident.
"Despite the heroism that we witnessed by many Hoosiers, Aug. 13, 2011, was a tragic day," Indiana Department of Labor Commissioner Lori Torres said. "My hope is that today represents at least a partial step towards closure for all of those that were affected."
The state issued the second largest penalty to Local 30 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, a union that IOSHA determined was the employer of a stagehand and a security guard who were killed by the collapse.
Local 30 Business Representative John Baldwin said, "IOSHA's contention that Local 30 was acting as an 'employer' is nothing short of absurd."
He said the union's contract repeatedly refers to the union members as employees of the fairgrounds.
IOSHA officials acknowledged the agency has never made a case against a union for safety and health standards before. But the agency found employment tax forms that documented the union as working as an employer.
"The union provided the supervision, the discipline, the training, and had the authority to discharge workers. The union selected the various personnel sent to various venues," Torres said.
IOSHA found that the union failed to provide fall protection equipment and training to the workers, among other violations. The union is also challenging IOSHA's fines.
The appeals go to the Board of Safety Review and can then be challenged in court, Torres said.
The Indiana State Fair Commission owes $6,300 for its IOSHA violations, which include failure to assess safety measures on the fairgrounds. The commission released a statement following the announcement Wednesday.
"Though the IOSHA report focuses on employee safety standards, the commission initiated a review of all of its operational safety policies and practices several months ago," said Indiana State Fair Commission Chairman Andre Lacy in a media release.
According to IOSHA Deputy Commissioner Jeff Carter, one problem in the stage collapse was that no one person had the authority to cancel the show in an instant. Every group involved had a different boss.
"I think that is part of the problem, when it comes to these concerts," Carter said. "It was quite a learning experience. There's an awful lot of people that seem to be in charge up there."
The state fair has been working to improve its safety measures since the incident.
"We have created a new emergency-management-officer position to assist with improving emergency action plans, and completed emergency evacuation training for all employees," Lacy said.
Lawmakers are also considering an appropriate response to the state fair mishap.
The Indiana General Assembly is moving a bill that would establish standards for the installation and inspection of outdoor stages and create a permitting process to determine the safety and functionality of the structures.
Timothy Cox is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.