This is an unusual workplace fatality to be sure: An animal sanctuary keeper is killed by a cougar. But some of the errors that Oregon OSHA says the sanctuary made are ones that could be made at a number of workplaces.
Renee Radziwon-Chapman, 36, the head keeper at WildCat Haven Sanctuary near Sherwood, OR, was fatally attacked by one or two cougars on Nov. 9, 2013.
A report from Oregon OSHA says Radziwon-Chapman was cleaning cougar cages alone when the incident happened. There were no other employees at the sanctuary on the day of the attack.
One or two of the animals were able to get into the cage that Radziwon-Chapman was cleaning. She was unable to lock them into another space before the attack. When an owner returned to the sanctuary, he found Radziwon-Chapman on the floor of the cougar cage. He was able to pull her out, but she was already dead.
Radziwon-Chapman sent one of WildCat’s owners several text messages before the attack saying she needed more help.
Oregon OSHA issued two serious violations:
- One because the sanctuary violated its two-person safety procedure by allowing keepers to work alone on a frequent basis, and
- One because of inadequate latch/lock design on the cougar cages.
WildCat has already improved its locks and cages. These improvements were required by Oregon OSHA. Each violation comes with a $2,800 fine, for a total of $5,600. The base penalty for each citation is $7,000, but Oregon OSHA subtracts 60% for employers with 25 employees or less. WildCat had three employees.
You don’t have cougars, but …
Some of the safety missteps at WildCat could have a negative impact on other types of businesses:
- Safety procedures won’t do employees any good if they are not followed — always.
- Proper engineering design will eliminate or greatly reduce hazards. Would this have happened if the locks were stronger?
- Listen to employees’ recommendations regarding safety. Radziwon-Chapman’s texts show she wasn’t comfortable with the lack of staff at the sanctuary. Employees performing tasks on a regular basis are uniquely qualified to identify potential hazards.