Occupational Health & Safety

OSHA Case Against SeaWorld Still Alive

The agency announced it has filed a petition seeking SeaWorld of Florida LLC’s compliance with administrative subpoenas requiring three managers to be interviewed during a follow-up abatement inspection.

OSHA announced it has filed a petition in a Florida federal court against SeaWorld of Florida LLC, seeking to force it to comply with administrative subpoenas requiring SeaWorld to provide three managers to be interviewed during OSHA’s follow-up abatement inspection. SeaWorld has declined to provide personnel to answer questions about abatement or correction of a prior violation that involved trainers' exposure to struck-by and drowning hazards while performing with killer whales –- an enforcement case that began when a SeaWorld Orlando trainer, Dawn Brancheau, was killed by one of the park's killer whales in February 2010.

"The employee testimony for the follow-up abatement inspection, required by a subpoena, allows OSHA inspectors to determine if SeaWorld employees continue to be exposed to unsafe and unhealthy working conditions," said Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels. "Abating safety and health hazards in the workplace needs to be as important to an employer as recognizing the hazards in the first place."

In May 2012, Ken S. Welsch, an OSHRC administrative law judge, sided mainly with OSHA in the case. He reduced the proposed penalty from $75,000 to $12,000 by reducing two general duty clause citations from willful to serious violations, but he upheld OSHA's argument that SeaWorld of Florida LLC should have provided effective barriers to prevent trainers from being harmed when they interact with killer whales. Brancheau was lying on a platform at the edge of a pool at Shamu Stadium and expecting a 12,000-pound whale named Tilikum to mimic her behavior when the whale instead grabbed her, pulled her underwater, and killed her.

Welsch held a nine-day hearing in the case in late 2011 after SeaWorld contested the citations. SeaWorld claimed that working with killer whales is not a recognized hazard for its trainers, but Welsch firmly disagreed after citing numerous cases of injuries, and some deaths, involving trainers.

"Since the [abatement] order went into effect, SeaWorld has filed a petition with the review commission seeking additional time to abate the violation regarding trainers' interaction with killer whales. SeaWorld maintains that the petition, which is pending resolution, should restrict the scope of OSHA's follow-up inspection," OSHA said in its news release.

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