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Probe into Indiana Stage Collapse Finds Plenty of Blame

Source: AP

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Posted on 09 Feb 2012

State fair officials, the stagehands union and a company that built the roof and lights rigging for a massive concert platform all share blame for last summer's deadly stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair, according to a government investigation.

The Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration released its report Wednesday after a six-month probe into the disaster. Seven people were killed and 58 were injured when a powerful storm swept into the fairgrounds and knocked over the outdoor stage rigging just before the country duo Sugarland was to perform.

State Labor Commissioner Lori Torres said OSHA's report, the first of three independent investigations into the Aug. 13 tragedy, was intended to improve workplace safety, not assign blame. However, it issued small fines against the fair, company and union and its findings could fuel more lawsuits.

The OSHA report said Greenfield, Ind.-based Mid-America Sound Corp. failed to adequately address safety standards. It found fair officials didn't sufficiently plan for emergencies and were too slow to order an evacuation of the grounds when powerful winds blew in ahead of a storm.

The report also said the union hadn't adequately trained members how to work at heights or provided them with fall protection.
None of that, however, could have necessarily prevented the collapse of outdoor stage rigging Aug. 13 when a powerful storm swept into the fairgrounds, Torres said.

"The state fair commission believed they had more time than they actually had based on weather conditions," Torres said. "This is not the same as saying that even if it had developed the proper protocol no one would have been injured. But clearly an earlier evacuation ... would have changed things."

OSHA issued a $6,300 fine against the State Fair Commission for failing to conduct proper safety evaluations of its concert venues. The department issued a $63,000 fine against Greenfield, Ind.-based Mid-America.

In a statement Wednesday, the company said it told the Indiana Fair Commission and Sugarland about the temporary roof's limitations in severe weather, advising that the area be evacuated in the event of lightning or winds topping 40 mph.

Despite that, they "refused to postpone the concert and failed to implement an evacuation plan away from the temporary roof structure," the company said in the statement.

Torres agreed that fair officials lacked an adequate evacuation plan and that the decision to evacuate the grandstand was ultimately up to its executive director, Cindy Hoye. She didn't immediately respond to a call from The Associated Press seeking comment Wednesday.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 30 also came under fire, accused of five workplace violations.

The report found that the union, not the commission, was the employer of the stagehands who were working Aug. 13 when the stage collapsed. But union attorney Bill Groth called that "absurd."

"Needless to say, Local 30 feels it is being scapegoated by this Administration, whose agents' own gross negligence in failing to vacate the premises in the face of the imminent storm cannot be explained away," Groth said in an email to The Associated Press.

Torres said the agency determined the union was the stagehands' employer because it selected the workers for the job and filed W-2s, workers compensation and other documents, among other factors. The union was fined $11,500.

Sugarland was not penalized, though the band has been named in some lawsuits over the accident. The agency said the band didn't employ the workers and wasn't responsible for building the stage.

Carter said the union had indicated it would contest the findings and state fair officials had requested a meeting with OSHA officials. Mid-America had not responded, he said.

Torres noted that state inspections of temporary structures such as the stage rigging weren't required at the time of the collapse but that a bill to require such inspections is pending in the Legislature.

Officials said the OSHA probe was prompted largely by the deaths of stagehand Nathan Byrd, who fell when the roof collapsed, and security guard Glenn Goodrich, who was standing nearby.

State officials have also hired two out-of-state companies to review the stage collapse and the state's emergency response to the disaster.

International engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti is conducting an investigation of the rigging collapse and national emergency planning advisers Witt Associates are reviewing the state's emergency plans and its response to the collapse.

Fair commission Chairman Andre Lacy said in a statement that those investigations will "give us the information we need to develop a comprehensive plan to take us forward."


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