DIGGING DEEPER: Bill addresses workplace safety concerns raised in ‘Dying on the Job’ reports

A state lawmaker on Monday afternoon filed legislation to revise Indiana’s workers’ compensation system and penalties for workplace safety violations for the first time in three decades. The legislation addresses key concerns raised by a recent ABC21 “Digging Deeper” series of reports.

Rep. Martin Carbaugh (R-Fort Wayne) filed HB 1341. If passed and signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb, it would:

  • Increase maximum penalties for employers cited for certain safety violations
  • Increase from $7,000 to $100,000 the fine imposed on a company for each worker killed in a workplace incident involving company fault
  • remove the opportunity for a negotiated reduction in penalties

Carbaugh chairs the House Insurance Committee.

The Speaker of the House will assign the bill to one of several possible committees for initial consideration. The likely destinations include Insurance or Labor, on which Carbaugh also serves.

His measure is supported in the upper chamber of the legislature by State Sen. Liz Brown (R-Fort Wayne), who intends to help shepherd the bill there.

“The one thing in your story that really stuck out is that it doesn’t cost much to risk the life of employees,” Carbaugh said upon filing the bill. “Hopefully, a penalty such as this — they would think twice.”

“I do want a bill passed.”

The legislative action follows several reports late last year by ABC21’s Alexis Shear.

The “Dying on the Job” investigation focused on the death of Shacarra Hogue, who was crushed inside a press at Fort Wayne Plastics one year ago — Jan. 7, 2018.

She was 23 years old.

A state investigation found that Fort Wayne Plastics had removed safety features from that machine so employees could physically climb inside it. Hogue died when a coworker turned the press on as she stood within it.

The Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration ultimately fined the company $6,300, and because she had no dependents, Hogue’s family received only $10,000 in workers’ compensation payouts.

They are also barred from taking civil action in court.

“I wouldn’t want anyone, like I said before, to go through what I’m going through,” Hogue’s mother, Samantha Hogue-Figgs told ABC21 in a new interview. “And I do want them to pass a bill. I do want a bill passed. And I do want to know if they will please have it be ‘Shacarra’s bill.’”

The Road Ahead

Like all legislation, HB 1341 faces a series of hearings and committee votes before it can move to the floor of the House and Senate.

No timeline has been set for that process.

Indiana’s legislature convened Jan. 3 for the session that runs through April 29.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce, one of the most influential business organizations in the state, has indicated it will back the measure.

“It just really makes me angry that better care wasn’t taken in the precaution and care of that facility,” Vice President of Health Care Policy Mike Ripley told Shear in Indianapolis on Monday. “When you see it — that kind of activity and those decisions made were indefensible. We think that what Rep. Carbaugh is trying or attempting to do makes sense.”

The Indiana Manufacturers Association has also backed the proposal.

Gov. Holcomb last month told ABC21 he believed most companies in the state conduct themselves responsibly, but said the Hogue matter made one “stop and think” about what can be done to improve worker safety.

This article was first published by WPTA 21.

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