IOSHA announces fines in Indiana State Fair stage collapse


State investigators say the company that built the State Fair stage that collapsed Aug. 13, 2011, killing seven and injuring dozens, ignored safety standards.

IOSHA's investigation is one of several launched after the disaster, which occurred during a severe thunderstorm just before Sugarland were set to take the stage. The wind caught the roof of the scaffolding and sent it toppling down on the crowd.

Nearly six months later, IOSHA is imposing fines on Mid America Sound Corp., the Indiana State Fair Commission and IATSE Local 30 stagehands union. The IOSHA investigation was in connection with the deaths of two workers: security guard Glenn Goodrich and stagehand Nathan Byrd, who was on the roof of the stage working for the union when he was killed.

Mid America Sound Corp. faces the largest fines based on the State Department of Labor report released Wednesday.

The state is fining Mid America $63,000 for three violations of the industry-accepted standards for outdoor entertainment events using temporary structures.

The report also found that the Indiana State Fair Commission failed to meet certain standards, including safety measures and exposure to severe weather. The Commission faces a $6,300 fine.

The stagehands union also faces an $11,500 fine for violations related to protection, training and maintaining the required records.

Some of the fines and violations will come with a fight.

IOSHA fines union for first time in state history

This is the first time in Indiana history a union has been fined by the Indiana Occupational Health and Safety Administration, and it's not sitting well. But after six months, 30 interviews and hundreds of records, the state is defending its case.

Facing a row of cameras, the Indiana Department of Labor made scathing indictments on three entities now fined for violating worker safety standards, starting with the Indiana State Fair Commission. The Aug. 13th Sugarland concert was their event at their venue and under their watch. IOSHA found the commission critically slow and lacking..

"It did not do enough in respect to planning for an adverse weather event," said Lori Torres, Dept. of Labor. "The State Fair Commission had an inadequate plan, and did not take necessary measures called for in the plan."

Investigators say Mid-America Sound owned and erected the roof structure that collapsed August 13th and should have known better, but failed to conduct minimal inspections or to add adequate cross bracing.

"They showed plain indifference to the standard and (IOSHA) therefore imposed knowing violations against them," said Torres.

But it was the stagehand's union, IATSE Local 30, that was deemed the employer of the workers who built the roof structure. Now the union is accused of failing to have had a competent person overseeing that construction.

"The State Fair Commission and State Fair personnel are ultimately responsible here and they're looking for scapegoats," said Bill Groth, attorney for the union.

IOSHA's assistant commissioner called the union uncooperative, leading to several showdowns with warrant teams.

"The lawyers...made it very difficult for us. We had to do a number of work-arounds to collect our evidence," said Jeff Carter, IOSHA assistant commissioner.

"Here we have a situation where the perpetrator, the potential wrongdoer is investigating itself," said Groth.

Groth is the Attorney representing Local 30. In an exclusive interview Tuesday night, he told 13 Investigates that IOSHA is deflecting blame away from another state agency, a claim investigators flatly deny.

"I had no interference. My investigators had no interference. We were told to follow the facts and that's what we did," said Carter.

"We all understand the criticism that the public or those who have so otherwise have been affected by this might be, but we just looked at the evidence," said Torres. "It would have been a lot easier to come out and say, 'Well, we fined the State Fair Commission a million dollars' and everyone might have felt better. But as it was, we looked at the evidence. We applied the standards."

Statement from Andre Lacy, fair chairman:

This afternoon, the chairman of the Indiana State Fair Commission issued this statement:

"Our hearts continue to go out to the victims and families of those whose lives were forever impacted by the events of Aug. 13. We also appreciate the due diligence of the Indiana Department of Labor in compiling its report. The Indiana State Fair Commission received its portion of the report just this morning, and we are reviewing it carefully.

"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. As those relate to employee safety, we have created a new emergency-management-officer position to assist with improving emergency action plans, and completed emergency evacuation training for all employees.

"Two independent investigations regarding the structural collapse and decision-making analysis are both in progress. IOSHA's report, with the findings of Witt Associates and Thornton Tomasetti, will give us the information we need to develop a comprehensive plan to take us forward. We anticipate those reports in the next several weeks."

Mid-America Sound says it strongly objects to the "knowing" violations, saying it had warned the commission for decades that the roof should not be used in high winds.

Statement from Myra Borshoff Cook, on behalf of Mid-America Sound

"We disagree with the findings issued today and strongly object to their classification as knowing violations.

Mid-America Sound was consistent and clear with the Indiana State Fair Commission about the limitations of the temporary roof structure in high winds or severe inclement weather.

Each year for nearly a decade, we warned the Commission, in writing, that "The roof or top shall not be used in high winds and or severe inclement weather. High winds meaning 25 MPH and above." In the case of the structure used for the Sugarland concert, the threshold was 40 mph for evacuation.

On the evening of the incident one of our employees reconfirmed with State Fair leadership that if there was lightning or wind speeds of 40 mph or more, the area should be evacuated.

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."

Mid-America Sound was cited and fined because it "did not provide cross-bracing as recommended by the manufacturer."

13 investigates exposed this issue weeks after accident by comparing pictures of a stage Mid America sound built for the 2004 State Fair to the one built for last year's fair. In 2004, you can clearly see cross bracing around the stage and structure. Last year's stage has some tethering, but not nearly as much cross-bracing. An independent engineer we talked to said the bracing is designed to stop this very thing from happening.

Sugarland's parent company, Lucky Star, was not held responsible, and IOSHA also said there was no violation of workplace standards by Sugarland.

Related links

Mid America Sound Corp. contract with Indiana State Fair

Testimony from Cindy Hoye, executive director, Indiana State Fair