Indiana critical of State Fair organizers, others in stage collapse

February 8, 2012

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The  Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration (IOSHA) on Wednesday issued a scathing report about last summer’s deadly stage collapse.

It cited three organizations, including the Indiana State Fair Commission, the entity that hosts the annual state fair in Indianapolis, for safety violations relating to the accident that occurred between concerts at the fairgrounds.

“The State Fair Commission failed to have conducted an adequate life safety evaluation and plan prior to the event,” Lori A. Torres, Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Labor, which oversees IOSHA, said at a Wednesday morning press conference at the Indiana Statehouse. “The commission simply did not establish and maintain conditions of work for its employees that were reasonably safe and free from reorganized hazards.”

In its report IOSHA states the State Fair Commission was fined $6,300 for not properly assessing safety conditions at the Indiana State Fairgrounds concert venues.

IOSHA also says the State Fair Commission didn’t respond quickly enough to reports that indicated severe weather was approaching. It also said some of those weather reports were inadequate.

“A decision to evacuate employees, as well as state fair attendees, should have been made well before the wind gust hit the stage,” Torres said. “The State Fair Commission had an inadequate plan and did not take necessary measures called for in the plan. The State Fair Commission was receiving inadequate weather information. It believed it had more time than they actually had based on weather conditions and were slow to make appropriate decisions. The weather front moved much more quickly than anticipated and was unusually in both speed and intensity.”

But Torres stopped short of saying that these failures resulted in the roof collapse and people to be killed or severely injured. “This is not the same as saying that, even if it had developed the proper protocol, that no one would have been injured,” Torres said. “But clearly, an early evacuation based upon timely National Weather Service information would have changed things.”

IOSHA also issue three safety violations against Mid-America Sound Corporation, an Indiana-based company that owned and erected the roof structure for the stage. The department cited the company for the following:

  • Failure to develop a risk assessment plan
  • Failure to maintain and use current engineering calculations
  • Failure to provide appropriate, qualified supervision

The department’s fines against Mid-America Sound total $63,000.

IOSHA also cited Local 30 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees for three serious and one “non-serious” violations. Members of that union helped build the stage and roof that collapsed. Citations against Local 30 included: failure to consider soil conditions when placing cable anchor points for the grandstand stage; failure to provide fall protection for employees working four feet or higher off the ground; and failure to conduct a personal protective equipment hazard assessment of the work site while erecting a load-bearing roof and the grandstand.

The union is facing $11,500 in fines.

Torres said her department spent six months on its investigation of the stage collapse. The department interviewed other entities, including the band Sugarland, who were set to take stage just prior to the stage collapse, but it did not find violations by any of them.

Following the collapse, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels called the wind that toppled the stage “freakish.” Such an accident had not occurred in decades at the Indiana State Fair.

The August 13 stage collapse claimed the life of seven people, including two from the Chicago area. One was Christina Santiago, 31, of Chicago, the manager for the Lesbian Community Care Project at the Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago. Another area victim that died was Tammy Vandam, a 42-year-old mother from the town of Northwest Indiana town of Wanatah.

Kenneth J. Allen, a Valparaiso-based personal injury attorney, has helped file lawsuits on behalf of Alisha Brennon, the spouse of Santiago, as well as the family of Vandam. Both lawsuits were filed against the State Fair Commission and the State of Indiana.

Allen said the stagehand union doesn’t deserve blame; instead, he said, Sugarland’s manager and the promoter, Live Nation, should be held accountable, because they could have called off the concert.  

“In theory, IOSHA’s [Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration] charter is to assure worker safety. In practice, however, it does very little in that regard. IOSHA is just another state agency headed by political appointees. And those appointments have all been made by a business-friendly, anti-consumer, anti-worker administration,” Allen told WBEZ Wednesday. “So the report says what the Governor wants it to say, focusing on those, like union workers, who had little if any decision-making input.

“Our investigation, on the other hand, has focused on the decision-makers. They – among them the event promoters and the management of Sugarland – deserve the bulk of the blame here, not the workers who assembled the stage,” Allen said. “Those in charge could, and should have, decided to postpone the event. But they put their profits over public safety, forging ahead in the face of a deadly storm, and the inevitable tragedy followed.”

Victims and their families filed lawsuits against the state following the collapse.

In December, the Indiana Attorney General’s office announced that nearly all of the 65 people who were injured accepted the state’s settlement offer and would share in a $5 million payout, the maximum allowed under Indiana law.