Ringling Bros. Settles, Agrees to Enhanced Safety for All Aerial Acts

OSHA cited the company after eight of its employees were badly hurt during a performance in May 2014 in Providence, R.I. They were performing an act called a "hair hang" when the carabiner used to support them failed and they fell more than 15 feet to the ground.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has agreed to implement safety enhancements in its aerial acts to protect employees against injuries like those sustained by eight aerialists during a May 4, 2014, performance in Providence, R.I. Feld Entertainment Inc., headquartered in Palmetto, Fla., owns the circus. The performers were injured while performing an act called a "hair hang" when the carabiner used to support them failed and they fell more than 15 feet to the ground. The aerialists, along with a ninth employee who was struck by the falling workers, sustained serious injuries.

OSHA's inspection determined that the carabiner used to lift performers was not loaded according to the manufacturer's instructions. The agency cited the circus for one serious violation of occupational safety standards and proposed the maximum fine of $7,000. The circus initially contested its citation and penalties to the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, but now it has agreed to pay the full fine, according to OSHA.

"This agreement goes beyond this one case. It commits Ringling Bros. to continual, effective, and detailed corrective action that will address and enhance safety for all its aerial acts so that catastrophic incidents, such as the Providence fall and the needless worker injuries that resulted, never happen again," said Patrick Griffin, OSHA's area director in Rhode Island.

"We sought and achieved a settlement that will maximize safety for the circus' employees and minimize the possibility of future falls and injuries. It's incumbent upon the circus to follow through on its pledge with a thorough, effective, proactive, and continuous safety program," said Michael Felsen, the department's regional solicitor of labor for New England.

Under the settlement, the circus agrees to take these actions on an ongoing basis:

  • All new and existing aerial acts will be reviewed by a registered professional engineer.
  • For each act, assemble and provide to each circus unit a technical book.
  • Develop a written checklist for equipment and hardware inspections for each act.
  • Each circus unit will conduct an annual safety day that will address employee safety topics.

The circus also will submit documentation that the hazard has been corrected and preventive measures have been put in place. The settlement will become a final order of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission on May 13, 2015.

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