- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 8, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - A state report on the Indiana State Fair stage collapse set for release Wednesday accuses a stagehands union of five workplace violations in the disaster that killed seven people, according to an attorney who said the union was being made a scapegoat.

Bill Groth, attorney for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 30, said the Indiana Occupational Health and Safety Administration found that the union, not the State Fair Commission, was the employer of the stagehands who were working Aug. 13 when the stage collapsed.

“Local 30 is not an employer. They’re a labor organization, a union,” Groth told WTHR-TV ( http://bit.ly/x65WTr). “I just think it’s reprehensible. The state ought to look in the mirror, because that’s where the culpability begins.”

IOSHA spokesman Bill Dittmer told The Associated Press Wednesday that the agency would not comment on its findings until it releases the report later Wednesday morning.

Stagehand Nathan Byrd was killed and eight other union members were among the 58 people injured in the collapse, which occurred when high winds toppled stage rigging shortly before country duo Sugarland was scheduled to perform at the fair’s outdoor Grandstands.

The IOHSA investigated Byrd’s death and the injuries to the other union workers during a six-month probe. The agency even issued a search warrant at union headquarters to obtain workplace documents.

WTHR reports that in a one-page, handwritten document sent to union leaders about its findings, IOSHA writes: “(The) employer did not maintain a log of injuries and illnesses or provide fall protection and training for heights greater than four feet. The employer did not conduct protective hazard assessments or determine soil conditions when placing guy wires and anchors and finally, the employer failed to designate a competent person for construction of the load-bearing roof.”

Groth said the State Fair Commission, and not the union, was the stagehands’ employer because the commission controlled the fairgrounds and is responsible for ensuring the safety of everyone who comes onto those grounds. He said Local 30 is a labor union, not an employer.

“(This is) an attempt to deflect attention away from themselves,” Groth said. “The State Fair Commission and State Fair personnel are ultimately responsible here. And they’re looking for scapegoats and we happen to be first in line.”

Indiana 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.

Officials had conducted no inspections of the stage before it collapsed onto fans, stagehands and others. Fair officials were also criticized after the stage collapse for failing to evacuate the area as a severe thunderstorm packing high winds and lightning approached the fairgrounds.

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