DIGGING DEEPER: Workplace safety bill passes crucial committee test

INDIANAPOLIS (WPTA21) – HB 1341, which would change how companies are penalized for workplace deaths involving substantial employer misconduct, passed out of a legislative committee on Tuesday and advances to the full Indiana House.

The vote followed testimony from the mother and the father of a Fort Wayne woman whose death prompted a series of Digging Deeper reports examining workplace safety.

It also followed one significant change to the language.

Samantha Hogue-Figgs and Jerry Figgs were not the only ones to testify before the Labor Committee. Representatives of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Indiana Manufacturers Association also offered input.

But it was the couple who lost their daughter in an accident at Fort Wayne Plastics in January 2018 who offered the most compelling testimony.

“We don’t want what happened to Shacarra to happen to any other family,” Jerry Figgs said, adding that he never wanted to have another worker’s parents “speak before you, crying… in tears.”

Shacarra Hogue’s parents traveled to Indianapolis late Monday so they could appear before the committee when it convened at 8:30 a.m.

“I felt like Shacarra was talking through me,” Samantha Hogue-Figgs told ABC21.

It was not clear until Tuesday morning that a vote would even take place. When it did, the committee passed the bill 13-0.

Representatives of two business-advocacy groups testified at the hearing for HB 1341.

But in a move backed by the Chamber of Commerce and the IMA, the committee first struck from the bill a “repeated violation” clause that raised concerns.

With the change, the reform plan received unanimous committee support.

“I haven’t slept for a couple of weeks because of this issue,” Chamber spokesman Mike Ripley said. “The actions of (Fort Wayne Plastics) are offensive. Something needs to be done. We understand that. But we need to thread the needle to make sure this bill doesn’t go too far.”

What the bill does do is significantly raise penalties that would be levied against companies that disregard safety rules, leading to the death of a worker.

In the case of Shacarra Hogue, Fort Wayne Plastics had intentionally removed a key safety feature from a molding press and had directed workers to enter the machinery — something that was never intended by the manufacturer.

Rep. Martin Carbaugh received a hug from the mother of Shacarra Hogue following passage of a workplace safety bill by the House Labor Committee

Despite the findings of fault, Fort Wayne Plastics was fined only $6,300 by Indiana’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

HB 1341, proposed by Republican State Rep. Martin Carbaugh, would be the first significant change in three decades in the rules used to administer penalties in such cases.

Tuesday’s vote in no way assures passage, but the bill would have died without clearing the Labor Committee.

READ: HB 1341, as amended on Feb. 12, 2019

 

Jonathan Shelley

Jonathan Shelley

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