SeaWorld operations continue to conflict with OSHA findings

Posted Thursday, April 11, 2013 10:12 AM | Contributed by VitaminsAndGravy

A federal judge believes SeaWorld had a duty to begin implementing new safety improvements required by workplace safety regulators last July, even while the theme park was fighting the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in court. In 2010, SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau was pulled underwater and drowned by a killer whale following a performance at the Orlando theme park. OHSA inspectors later found SeaWorld to be in violation of several workplace safety regulations. A judge ordered the marine park to pay $12,000 in fines.

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Thursday, April 11, 2013 10:16 AM

I'm kind of troubled by this entire story. What happened was certainly tragic, but I still think that the particular job of training these huge animals is a special case that shouldn't be subject to what OSHA thinks. For one, OSHA has no expertise. Also, I think there's an accepted risk in this case, much in the same way that someone puts their head inside of a lion's mouth in the circus.

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Thursday, April 11, 2013 10:41 AM

Absolutely ridiculous. As much as the shows are entertainment, they're also educational and inspiring. Had it not been for spending a few days at SeaWorld Ohio each year growing up and watching the shows there and seeing these animals how they're presented, I don't think I would have quite the same interest and appreciation that I do today. What OSHA wants to do would basically mean the end of any kind of show presentation and would reduce activity to simply swimming around in a tank, removing a large chunk of their physical activity as well. Plus, these shows and whales are part of a larger research and conservation program, and removing trainer interaction would impact how and how much we learn about them. If OSHA is strictly concerned about the public-facing show interactions, then they clearly have no point or reason beyond public grandstanding and need to butt out.

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Thursday, April 11, 2013 2:33 PM

I +1'd Jeff's comments, but wanted to add this tidbit.

I'm not particularly fond of government regulations being "in bed with industry" at every turn. In general, it leads to a lot of corruption and very little actual regulating. Working with animals is different. I would prefer to have the Jeff Corwins and Jack Hannas available to me berfore I start writing regulations about how to deal with wild animals. Yes, we want employees (in this case, trainers) to be as safe as reasonably prudent. That means something *entirely* different when you're working with heavy machinery than it does when you're working with living, breathing, wild animals...

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Thursday, April 11, 2013 3:39 PM

Jeff said:

...I still think that the particular job of training these huge animals is a special case that shouldn't be subject to what OSHA thinks.

I do generally agree that there are some areas where OSHA creates more problems than it solves. However, I don't think your justifications are valid.

For one, OSHA has no expertise.

OSHA often does not have expertise in the areas it governs. What OSHA does have expertise in is safety.

Also, I think there's an accepted risk in this case...

I regularly work near live 480VAC (and for what it's worth, am on my company's safety committee). My job carries that obvious accepted risk. But we're still governed by OSHA when it comes to matters of safety.

rollergator said:

That means something *entirely* different when you're working with heavy machinery than it does when you're working with living, breathing, wild animals...

Let me reiterate that I'm in general agreement. However, why are the two scenarios so different? Both carry an obvious, accepted level of risk.

I think in terms of general workplace safety, OSHA has it's place. But there are certain industries, tools, etc., where there really is only so much that can be done in terms of safety, and often times when OSHA tries to "idiot proof" certain dangerous scenarios, all they end up doing is costing money and not really making anything safer. But I don't think animals and heavy machinery (or insert your preferred inherently-dangerous situation here) are very different.

Last edited by djDaemon, Thursday, April 11, 2013 3:42 PM
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Thursday, April 11, 2013 3:59 PM

Machinery, operated properly, well-maintained, regularly inspected, is unlikely to cause injury. It may still "break" and injure someone, but normal operations won't harm an employee.

Wld animals, well-fed, properly cared for, tested, medicated, and even nurtured...are unpredictable even without "something going wrong." They're different because they are alive and have their own free will....machines don't.

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Thursday, April 11, 2013 4:25 PM

I suppose I just equate random, unpredictable machinery failure to random, unpredictable animal behavior.

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Thursday, April 11, 2013 8:40 PM

I grew up in Aurora and was fortunate to have known some of the trainers that worked with sea lions, dolphins and the orcas. None of them ever took for granted that they were assured 100% safety in their job because of the nature of their work. It's common sense, which we seem to lack in our country anymore.

Going with the logic of OHSA, basically they are setting it up that anyone who works with an animal is vulnerable to injury.....does this mean people need barriers working with dogs, cats, cows, horses, monkeys, tigers, bears, etc? Animals are ANIMALS, there is no 100% full-proof system of guaranteeing safety. If this is the standard going forward then we are going to have to shut down a majority of animal entertainment shows in this country.

One thing that I am disturbed by is what I have read about the trainer's death at the park in Spain where orcas are on loan from SeaWorld. This trainer was a friend of Dawn's and was killed by an orca a month or two prior to Dawn's tragic death. In both cases it was known that the whales involved had a history of behavioral issues, which I think in this instance SeaWorld does and should maintain stricter standards of interaction between trainers and mammals. To me it seems like these situations need to be handled on a case-by-case basis, not one blanket rule across on entire industry.

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Thursday, April 11, 2013 9:20 PM

djDaemon said:
I regularly work near live 480VAC (and for what it's worth, am on my company's safety committee). My job carries that obvious accepted risk. But we're still governed by OSHA when it comes to matters of safety.

Does electricity ever think you're playing, grab you by the hair and unintentionally drown you?

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Thursday, April 11, 2013 9:56 PM

Sometimes, but only when Optimus Prime and I are horsing around.

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Friday, April 12, 2013 6:51 AM

Jeff said:
Does electricity ever think you're playing, grab you by the hair and unintentionally drown you?

Cute. But not cute enough to be a valid counter-argument. :-)

The point is that in both cases - with dangerous machinery and with dangerous animals - unexpected things happen.

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Friday, April 12, 2013 9:29 PM

Yes, and because of a fairly well defined body of knowledge that is physics, OSHA can make guidelines that mitigate risk. They can make rules like, "Don't climb in a press unless you unplug it first." You can't exactly make a rule that says, "Don't climb into a pool with a huge mammal that doesn't understand your intentions."

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Friday, April 12, 2013 10:53 PM

How can we have killer whale shows UNLESS trainers have "close physical contact" with killer whales? OSHA seems to be asking that Seaworld declare bankruptcy. I only agree with you 50% of the time or so Jeff, but this time, I'm on your side. These OSHA people are not marine biologists and have no idea how to deal with marine animals. Therefore, they are unfit to pass down these sort of rules. Unless they plan to outright ban shows of this type (which probably isn't too far away in the future), they should hush up.

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Monday, April 15, 2013 3:59 AM

It really seems like these kinds of jobs should fall under a category with some kind of accepted risk, like stunt performers. For the most part, I'm all for what OSHA does, but there are certainly some jobs out there where the only way to mitigate the risk is to eliminate the job.

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Monday, April 15, 2013 2:12 PM

Jeff said:

...a huge mammal that doesn't understand your intentions."

When I'm debugging an energized robotic cell, the PLC doesn't understand my intentions. That's why I think you're making an arbitrary distinction here. And again, I agree that OSHA shouldn't be sticking it's nose in here - I just don't think the live animal aspect makes this all that different from other scenarios where OSHA is regularly nosing around.

But hey, what do I know? I'm just a guy who makes his living working in, on and around dangerous/heavy machinery, while ensuring said machinery meets the standards established by OSHA, UL, NRTL, CE, etc.

;-)

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Monday, April 15, 2013 5:53 PM

What's arbitrary about it? You're dealing with a finite amount of if-then conditions. Animals do not have those conditions. I can debug software. I can't debug a whale.

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Monday, April 15, 2013 9:18 PM

And it is reasonably safe to assume that the whale really has no interest in being OSHA compliant. OSHA is trying to treat the whale like a piece of machinery, and I do not think it is possible or desirable to do so.

There is no E-stop on an orca.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

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