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SeaWorld appeal: failure to maintain a safe working environment

The main attraction and primary source of income at SeaWorld's California theme park, as well as the two in other states in United States, have been the interactive shows featuring orcas, or killer whales, performing stunts to entertain the public. This is done under the guidance of trainers who traditionally have been in close and personal contact with the killer whales. This has recently been threatened by the findings of OSHA, claiming that they are exposing their trainers to dangerous surroundings. Due to their failure to maintain a safe working environment according to OSHA's standards, they are now obligated to make changes to enable the trainers to be physically separated from the orcas during performances.

The OSHA investigation was prompted by the drowning of a female trainer in 2010, after a 12,000-pound bull orca pulled her into the pool at SeaWorld's Orlando site in Florida. OSHA fined SeaWorld $75,000 for violating three safety laws as part of the general duty clause of the act. This clause addresses hazards like this one for which there are no publicized standards. In 2012, an administrative law judge of QSHA's review commission downgraded one of the charges from willful to serious and reduced the fine to $12,000.

SeaWorld has lodged an appeal, arguing that OSHA's application of the general duty clause is overly broad. They called the case "fundamentally challenged." SeaWorld claimed that having to separate the trainers from the orcas can be compared to posting speed limits on the NASCAR circuit or prohibiting blocking and tackling in the NFL.

SeaWorld stated that the monetary fine was not their main concern in this litigation. Their primary concern is the effect the separation between killer whales and humans, as required by OSHA, could have on their shows. They wrote that OSHA cannot use the clause to force a business in California or anywhere in the United States to change the one product that they offer the public, which produces their main income. The case of appeal regarding their failure to maintain a safe working environment is scheduled to come before a panel of three judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals on Nov. 12.

Source: Reuters, SeaWorld appeal could force taming of its popular orca shows after trainer's death, Carlyn Kolker, Oct. 29, 2013

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