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SeaWorld said it will challenge the findings of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s six-month investigation of a killer whale trainer’s death. The Orlando Sentinel reported that the investigation concluded in a proposed $75,000 fine and proposed restrictions. The trainer’s death in February has been called the worst tragedy in SeaWorld’s 46-year history.
OSHA cited SeaWorld with one “willful” workplace-safety violation due to “known aggressive tendencies” from previous incidents and continued “unprotected contact” by trainers. Two lesser citations included one for not installing stairway railings on two bridges on the stage used for “Believe” killer-whale shows, and one for the lack of weatherproof enclosures on the outdoor electrical receptacles around SeaWorld’s orca complex.
OSHA recommended that SeaWorld trainers never again have direct contact with Tilikum, the whale who drowned trainer Dawn Brancheau on February 24. OSHA also recommended that SeaWorld implement new safeguards before trainers are again allowed to swim or work in close contact with smaller killer whales.
In a prepared statement, OSHA said: “SeaWorld recognized the inherent risk of allowing trainers to interact with potentially dangerous animals. Nonetheless, it required its employees to work within the pool walls, on ledges and on shelves where they were subject to dangerous behavior by the animals.”
OSHA added that “…SeaWorld trainers had an extensive history of unexpected and potentially dangerous incidents involving killer whales at its various facilities….Despite this record, management failed to make meaningful changes to improve the safety of the work environment for its employees.”
SeaWorld issued a statement in response: “SeaWorld disagrees with the unfounded allegations made by OSHA today and have already informed the agency that we will contest this citation. OSHA’s allegations in this citation are unsupported by any evidence or precedent and reflect a fundamental lack of understanding of the safety requirements associated with marine mammal care.”
SeaWorld has 15 working days to formally challenge OSHA’s findings. An appeal would go before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, an administrative court overseen by a three-person commission appointed by the president.