The RV Industry is booming in Elkhart County, with high production and sales, but it may be coming at the cost of worker safety. One local RV company, Forest River, has recently been hit with thousands of dollars in safety violations from the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration. An investigation into the company by ABC57 News, a local TV station News team, revealed that Forest River was made up of a fast-paced worker culture filed with alleged drug use and lax safety practice. The Elkhart RV Industry came back to life in the last few years after the 2008 recession. Former President Barack Obama had highlighted the RV Industry growth in Elkhart during his second visit to the area near the end of his second term in office. The demand for RVs is high and manufacturers are offering highly competitive packages to the potential employees to help increase production. Because of that rush, however, worker safety seems to be falling through the cracks at companies like Forest River. Current and former employees of Forest River described the work as fast-paced, which is inspired by the “piece rate” incentive, which means that the more RV units or pieces completed, the more an employee might receive in pay. Although River Forest tries to enforce safety as much as possible, slips in its safety system drew the attention of the Indiana Department of Labor. Forest River appeared in a 2017 Annual State Occupational report as a “significant case” due to “excessive injuries”. The report stated that in the last 9 months of 2017 there were nine fingers amputated, a fractured pelvis, and multiple foot fractures caused by accidents at Forest River. Indiana’s OSHA office sent a team of six people to Forest River plants in Goshen and Middlebury and several others, finding that between September 2017 and November of 2018, ten of Forest River’s 26 plants in Elkhart County had committed a total of 55 violations, 44 of them very serious, with the fines totaling in $254,975. During that same time period, only four other local RV companies were hit with safety violations, with the most going to Lippert Components with 10 violations and initial fines totaling $45,000. The inspectors for IOSHA stated that Forest River’s workers were at risk for amputation, falling, electric shock, and in some cases, they found that the employees were not properly trained and that wearing the proper protective gear was not made mandatory for the employees.
Forest River has corrected some of the violations and their penalties have been reduced after the company reached a settlement agreement with IOSHA. The IOSHA settlement agreement requires that the employer do more to address worker safety and health in its workplace than just simply pay the penalty associated with the violation, part of that means taking part in the IOSHA’s INSafe program. The mission of this program is to help them identify opportunities to improve worker safety and compliance with IOSHA regulations. This did not stop other violations and injury reports from Forest River which continued through 2018. In two cases paramedics were called to the company’s division in Goshen, which had continued violations. According to investigators, Forest River has committed violations at plants they own in four other states. Workers for Forest River have stated that the problem is not just safety violations, but a culture of drug use. Even though Forest River’s code of conduct states that it is a drug-free workplace, the workers have stated that this rule is not enforced, with reports of drug use and some workers getting high during their shifts. These drugs included Pills, Marijuana, Cocaine, and Meth. A former manager of Forest River has stated the company did not perform regular drug tests of its employees, but instead only test someone if they had been involved in an accident while on duty.
A workplace should be a place of safety and competency, where no employee should have to fear preventable accidents or injuries. It is the responsibility of employers to keep their facilities safe, drug-free, and their workers away from dangerous situations. If you or someone you know has had a workplace injury through no fault of their own or caused by the dangerous working conditions created by their employer, please contact the experienced legal team at Schiller Law Offices at 888-578-3100 or at IndyInjured.com to learn more about your potential right to compensation.