24 August 2010

OSHA fines SeaWorld for death of trainer Dawn Brancheau

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Seaworld of Florida three safety violations stemming from the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau last February at the park. The total penalty is $75,000 for the violations, one of which is classified as “willful.”

"SeaWorld recognized the inherent risk of allowing trainers to interact with potentially dangerous animals," said Cindy Coe, OSHA's regional administrator in Atlanta, Ga. "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."

A willful violation is defined as being committed with “plain indifference to or intentional disregard” to employee safety and health. In the case of Seaworld, the violation is for exposing employees to “struck by and drowning hazards” while working with the killer whales.

Last February, the killer whale Tilikum grabbed Dawn and pulled her under water during a training session. The autopsy report concluded Dawn’s death was from drowning and traumatic injuries.

An investigation by OSHA revealed that Seaworld failed to enact changes that would protect its employees from harm, and that Seaworld trainers had a history of engaging in potentially dangerous behavior.

Tilikum is believed to be responsible for two other deaths, one in 1991, and one in 1999. Seaworld trainers were not allowed in the water with him, but were allowed to interact with him and touch him at water’s edge. Despite these precautions, Tilikum still managed to harm Dawn.

Robin Lawless

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