SeaWorld "exploring" further action against OSHA citation
May 31, 2012 | WMFE - SeaWorld disputes some of a ruling upholding an OSHA citation after a killer whale drowned a trainer and is "exploring if further action is necessary," the theme park says.
At stake are performances featuring the theme park's star attraction, killer whales. The ruling Wednesday upholds an Occupational Safety and Health Administration citation requiring SeaWorld to mitigate risk to trainers by, among other things, placing physical barriers between all trainers and whales during performances.
The ruling allows SeaWorld to use "decking systems, oxygen supply systems or other engineering or administrative controls that provide the same or greater level of protection for the trainers" with whales other than Tilikum, the whale that drowned trainer Dawn Brancheau during a performance in 2010. Barriers are required with Tilikum.
But Administrative Law Judge Ken S. Welsch ruled against OSHA's assertion that SeaWorld committed a "willful" violation, meaning the judge felt the administration failed to establish the theme park disregarded employee safety or the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Welsch reduced the theme park's fine from $70,000 to $7,000.
Welsh ruled SeaWorld knowingly exposed trainers to risk, evident in a requirement that trainers engage in intensive safety training and sign liability waivers. His ruling states that trainers are held to a "near-impossible standard set by upper management."
"SeaWorld believes it 'conditions all aspects of (whale) behavior.' All behavior is thus predictable. If an undesirable behavior occurs, it is because the trainer missed a known precursor. Ergo, the trainer is always at fault for the killer whale's undesirable behavior," according to the ruling.
SeaWorld must comply with the citation within 10 days of the ruling. Already the theme park had implemented barriers between Tilikum and trainers and suspended water interaction with all other whales during performances. The ruling applies only to performances. The judge felt direct contact is necessary for the whales' health care.