Safety and OSHA News

Zoo fined: Elephant killed trainer

Earlier this year, an elephant killed an animal trainer at the Knoxville Zoo in Tennessee. Now the zoo faces fines from that state’s safety agency (TOSHA).

This case also provides another example of how federal and state OSHAs can use the General Duty Clause when no specific workplace regulation applies to a situation.

In January, Edie, an 8,500 pound African elephant, pushed trainer Stephanie James into the steel beams of a stall and then to the ground. James was rushed to a local hospital where she died a few hours later.

James had called the elephant into the stall to give her a treat box. Another trainer in the elephant barn said Edie’s eyes widened when she entered the stall as if she had been spooked.

TOSHA’s investigation uncovered that there had been previous incidents involving Edie with both trainers and visitors. Another employee said he was working with the elephant in December 2007 when she hit him with her trunk and knocked him down, twice. Edie then held the trainer down with her tusk and started pushing him into the steel bars of the stall. The elephant stopped that attack on its own, and the worker was treated for injuries at a hospital.

A TOSHA investigator concluded that because of Edie’s previous aggressive behavior, the zoo should have placed her in “protected contact,” meaning the trainers are never inside a stall with an elephant.

TOSHA issued a serious General Duty Citation for $5,000 to the zoo for not placing animals such as Edie in protected contact to prevent employees from being injured. The General Duty Clause says an employer must provide an environment free of recognized hazards that were likely to cause death or serious injury.

The zoo was also cited for not reporting James’ death to TOSHA in a timely manner and for violations not related to the fatality. The fines total $12,600. The zoo says it has formally contested all of the citations and penalties.

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Comments

  1. NancyNew says:

    SOmething that really, really bugs me is disparity: How much can–and does–the FCC fine broadcasters who use inappropriate language on the air? And how much can OSHA fine a company for unsafe practices that actually kill someone?

  2. NancyNew – FCC fine for swearing over the radio (at certain times) is around $7,000.
    TOSHA fine for somebody dying on the job because an unsafe environment $5,000.

    Obviously someones life is less important than one single swear word spoken over a radio. I wonder what explanation OSHA, or other government agency would give to the family of the deceased.

    “SOmething that really, really bugs me is disparity: How much can–and does–the FCC fine broadcasters who use inappropriate language on the air? And how much can OSHA fine a company for unsafe practices that actually kill someone?”

  3. SafetyGoon says:

    OSHA overuses the General Duty Clause. If they’re concerned about the safety of animal trainers, write some rulemaking proposals for their protection and stop using the general duty clause to fine whatever OSHA feels like without offering any actual guidance for “compliance.” Isn’t that the point of OSHA? Offering guidance for workplace safety and THEN fining for non-compliance? Does the general duty clause keep people safe? No, specific regulation and industry best practices help keep people safe. The General Duty Clause just provides income to a government slush fund.

  4. alecfinn says:

    SafetyGoon

    So many folk are complaining about regulations and big Government……..I think life should be protected. I see nothing wrong with the “General Duty Clause”

    Your comment on guidance is really good and if there is a citation the inspectors should be required to assist in helping organizations be and operate in a safe manner.

  5. A friend of mine was a zoologist at Audubon Zoo, and watched one of the elephants kill one of his colleagues. Elephants are amazing creatures, but zoologists and animal trainers need to always be mindful of their own safety around them.

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