Petition to Department of Labor Asks for New Rule to Protect Workers from Animal AttacksJune 14th, 2012
Animal Legal Defense Fund Asks OSHA to Require Barriers Between Trainers and Dangerous Animals at Facilities Like SeaWorld
For immediate release:
Lisa Franzetta, Animal Legal Defense Fund
Megan Backus, Animal Legal Defense Fund
Washington, D.C. – This morning, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) filed a petition with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), asking the agency to fill a perilous regulatory vacuum by setting standards to protect employees who are required to work with dangerous and wild animals, such as killer whales at marine parks and tigers, elephants, and bears at circuses and zoos. No standard has ever been issued by OSHA that protects workers from hazardous captive animals, despite OSHA’s consistent policy of issuing permanent standards regarding equivalent workplace hazards. ALDF’s petition comes on the heels of last month’s landmark ruling by administrative law Judge Ken Welsch upholding federal safety violations against SeaWorld for exposing employees to injury or death following the 2010 death of veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was killed in front of spectators in at the Orlando theme park when a 29-year-old killer whale named Tilikum dragged her underwater.
ALDF’s petition asks OSHA to issue a standard obliging employers to require that their workers have physical barriers protecting them from dangerous animals. The agency already has similar rules requiring physical barriers to protect employees from other known workplace hazards, including toxins and carcinogens, which, like wild animals, pose a substantial risk of injury or death to employees working with them. However, despite its regulatory authority, and its recognition in its recent review of the circumstances surrounding Brancheau’s death that a physical barrier is a feasible means of protecting trainers from the animals they work with, OSHA has thus far failed to regulate human-animal interactions in the workplace.
Such a regulation would impact the more than 2,700 licensed animal exhibitors in the United States, many of whom confine inherently dangerous wild animals who are capable of inflicting serious injury and even death, as evidenced by numerous incidents of tragic maulings in recent years. According to ALDF’s proposed rule, while employees could cross physical barriers to provide immediate care (e.g., feeding, veterinary treatment, etc.) to dangerous wild animals, direct contact simply to encourage certain behaviors or other forms of entertainment would not be permitted. SeaWorld has voluntarily been effectively using physical barriers to protect its trainers since Brancheau’s death, demonstrating the feasibility of such a policy. Meanwhile, parks like Vallejo, California’s Six Flags and the Miami Seaquarium continue to allow trainers to interact and even swim with several ton killer whales.
“Judge Welsch’s ruling rightfully recognized the inherent danger to trainers in working with killer whales,” says ALDF Director of Litigation Carter Dillard. “The clear next step the government must take to protect employees from dangerous animals at marine parks, zoos, and circuses is to set a specific rule requiring that permanent barriers between workers and animals be established now—rather than waiting until the next tragedy occurs.”
Copies of the petition are available upon request.