Between September 2017 and November 2018, ten of Forest River’s 26 plants in Elkhart County were hit with a total of 55 violations, 44 of them serious. The initial fines totaled $254,975, according to an ABC57 report.
Forest River showed up in a 2017 annual state occupational safety report as a “significant case” due to “excessive injuries.” According to the report, in the first nine months of 2017 alone there were nine fingers amputated, a fractured pelvis, and multiple foot fractures.
The ABC57 Investigates team spent almost a year going over stacks of IOSHA (Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration) inspection reports and talking to several current and former employees at Elkhart-based Forest River. What they found paints a picture of a fast-paced work culture filled with alleged drug use and lax safety practices—all proving to be a dangerous combination.
In the last few years the Elkhart RV industry has soared back to life after sinking deep into the depths of the 2008 recession. Demand is so high many RV manufacturers are offering highly competitive packages to potential employees to help increase production. But in that rush to meet demand worker safety seems to be falling through the cracks at Forest River—one of America’s largest manufacturers of recreational vehicles.
ABC57 spoke to several current and former employees who shared those concerns. Many declined to speak on camera out of fears of retaliation. One former employee did agree to speak on camera—if we hid his identity out of fears he would be frozen out of the industry for speaking up. His employment was confirmed through an old Forest River pay stub. He described the work environment inside the plant as fast-paced.
The company has a 3.2 rating out of 5 on indeed.com, a website that allows current and former employees to review their employers.
Some call it a great place to work, while others say there are problems. One thing almost every worker agreed on was the fast pace. That pace inspired by the “piece rate” one former manager told us about. It means the more pieces completed the more you get paid.
“They try to enforce safety as much as possible, but of course there are slips within the system you would say,” the former worker said.
Those slips eventually drew the attention of the Indiana Department of Labor with the company showing up in a 2017 Annual State Occupational report as a “significant case” due to “excessive injuries”. According to the report, in the first nine months of 2017 alone there were nine fingers amputated, a fractured pelvis, and multiple foot fractures.
IOSHA then sent a team of six people to Forest River plants in Goshen and Middlebury and eventually several others. Between September 2017 and November of 2018, ten of Forest River’s 26 plants in Elkhart County were hit with a total of 55 violations, 44 of them serious. The initial fines totaled $254,975.
To compare, during that same time period only four other local RV companies were hit with safety violations. The most was Lippert Components with 10 violations and initial fines totaling $45,000.
Among Forest River’s violations inspectors cited risks of amputation, falling, and electric shock. In some cases, inspectors found Forest River employees were not properly trained and wearing the proper protective gear was not mandatory.
The violations and injury reports continued to come in through most of 2018. Paramedics were called twice to the company’s Starcraft division in Goshen, one of the locations hit with repeat violations. ABC57 obtained all dispatch calls to the Goshen plant. One from January 2018 was for a 50-year-old man who fell 12 feet hitting his head. Then in May a man in his 50s had two deep lacerations to two of his fingers.
Warren Buffet, are you listening?
And remember that not all RV manufacturers are created equal.
It is easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn’t.
—Martin Van Buren