Last summer, a judge affirmed fines and an abatement order against SeaWorld Orlando in connection with the drowning death of a trainer who was pulled underwater by a killer whale. SeaWorld appealed and in the meantime didn’t comply with the abatement order. Now a judge has weighed in again.
A U.S. district judge ruled SeaWorld must obey the abatement order even though the matter isn’t completely settled due to an appeal.
In July 2012, an administrative law judge ruled OSHA can require SeaWorld to install physical barriers between trainers and the killer whales or require the employees to maintain a minimal distance from the animals. SeaWorld appealed within 10 days of the decision as required by law.
Local media in Orlando have been reporting SeaWorld is once again allowing the trainers to have close contact with the animals despite the judge’s order. A TV station recorded SeaWorld trainers touching the killer whales without any barriers separating them.
OSHA reinspected SeaWorld in October to check on compliance with its order. The agency wanted to interview three SeaWorld employees as part of its review. SeaWorld and the workers refused the interviews.
The district judge ruled that OSHA may interview the employees as part of the re-inspection.
If OSHA finds SeaWorld isn’t in compliance with its previous order, the park could face even more safety fines.
SeaWorld says it’s taken numerous measures to ensure its employees’ safety. It says it abated two out of the three OSHA violations.
Court documents show that negotiations between OSHA and SeaWorld regarding the third violation started in December 2012. The document predicted it would take at least a month to work out any agreement.
SeaWorld’s appeal remains on hold while it tries to negotiate a settlement with OSHA.
In 2010, trainer Dawn Brancheau was pulled underwater and drowned by a killer whale following a performance. SeaWorld faces $12,000 in fines related to an inspection following the incident.
A related side note: This week, SeaWorld filed its initial public offering (IPO). As part of that process, companies prepare statements that list potential risks for potential investors.
In SeaWorld’s IPO, it notes that “injuries or death, while rare, have occurred in the past” when animals came in contact with people. It specifically mentions the Brancheau drowning and the resulting OSHA inspection.