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Indiana stage builder cited in state fair disaster

February 8, 2012

The State Labor Department says the company that built the stage ahead of last summer's deadly Indiana State Fair collapse showed "plain indifference" to safety standards.

Commissioner Lori Torres said Wednesday that Mid-America Sound Corp. has been cited with three major safety violations in connection with the collapse of outdoor stage rigging in high winds that killed seven people Aug. 13. A crowd had gathered at the stage to see the country duo Sugarland perform.

The department issued a $63,000 fine against the company. Mid-America did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.

It also fined the Indiana State Fair Commission $6,300 and a stagehands union $11,500 for safety-regulation violations, bringing the total fines accessed by the state to $80,800.

Officials say the commission failed to conduct proper safety evaluations of its concert venues and should have planned better for severe weather.

The six-month investigation by the state does not address a cause of the stage collapse but takes into account workplace safety violations it believes were committed by the three entities. The state launched its probe because of the deaths of stagehand Nathan Byrd and security guard Glenn Goodrich.

“A discussion to evacuate should have been made well before the wind gusts hit the stage area,” said Lori A. Torres, commissioner of the Indiana Department of Labor.

Mid-America Sound received the most serious violations because it did not provide cross-bracing for the stage as recommended by the manufacturer, did not consider the soil conditions at the location, and did not consider the weights of equipment attached to the stage, the report said.

Earlier Wednesday, an attorney for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 30 said the union was being made a scapegoat.

“Local 30 is not an employer. They're a labor organization, a union,” Bill Groth told WTHR-TV. “I just think it's reprehensible. The state ought to look in the mirror, because that's where the culpability begins.”

But state officials countered that the union is an employer because it is listed as such on unemployment insurance forms and files income tax forms, in addition to providing supervision and training for workers.

The state has never fined a union before, Torres said, but it has previously launched investigations against state entities, including the Indiana Department of Transportation, Department of Natural Resources and Department of Transportation.
Torres said the investigation took six months, much longer than normal state investigations, because of the complexity of issues involved and an uncooperative union.

“Our investigation was hampered, in part, because we did not get to talk to all of the stagehands,” she said. “The union refused to cooperate.”

The state did not fine Lucky Star Inc., the business entity of the band Sugarland, because as the performer it was not responsible for the safety of stage workers, Torres said.

The State Fair Commission, Mid-America and the union have until March 6 to either pay the fine or contest it. The union has indicated that it will in fact challenge the penalty, Torres said.

The three were notified of the state’s findings just within the past few days.

Meanwhile, Indiana senators are pushing regulations designed to avoid another tragedy like the stage collapse.

Democratic Sen. Tim Lanane's proposal would require the state Division of Fire and Building to issue permits for temporary structures. It would also allow local inspectors certified by the state to check structural integrity.

The Senate voted 45-5 Tuesday in favor of the plan. It now moves to the House for consideration.

 

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