OSHA Issues Alert Letter to Hope Elephants Following Worker's Death

The elephant refuge has been instructed to follow industry safety standards.

An OSHA inspection found that a man who was found dead routinely entered an elephant refuge to work with the animals without the proper protection. As a result, the agency has issued a hazard alert letter to Hope Elephants' board of directors noting the hazards of having individuals enter the elephant enclosure without protection against crushing injuries caused by elephants and recommending that protected contact, consistent with industry standards, be used when employees work with elephants.

James Laurita, co-found, curator and elephant manager of the Hope Elephant Refuge in Hope, Maine, was found dead in the refuge's compound with a crushed chest on Sept. 9, 2014.

According to the OSHA news release, the letter also recommends that Hope Elephants develop and implement a policy as to how it will ensure that elephant care providers are not present in the same unrestricted space as elephants, except in rare circumstances. OSHA noted that the Association of Zoos & Aquariums' standard for elephant management and care stipulates that institutions have adequate infrastructure to manage and care for elephants with barriers and/or restraints in place to increase employees' safety. "The AZA measures compliance with the standard through a determination that elephant care providers do not share the same unrestricted space with elephants, except in certain, well-defined circumstances," according to the release.

"James Laurita's death is a tragic example of what can happen when employers fail to follow industry requirements and to take the necessary steps to protect employees. The care and management of elephants and other wild animals can be a rewarding profession, but not if it comes at the cost of a worker's life," said Maryann Medeiros, OSHA's area director for Maine.

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