The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has filed a petition against SeaWorld of Florida LLC to comply with administrative subpoenas that require SeaWorld to provide three managers to be interviewed during OSHA's follow-up abatement inspection. SeaWorld has declined to provide personnel to answer questions regarding abatement or correction of a prior violation related to trainers' exposure to struck-by and drowning hazards when engaged in performances with killer whales.
"The employee testimony for the follow-up abatement inspection, required by a subpoena, allows OSHA inspectors to determine if SeaWorld employees continue to be exposed to unsafe and unhealthy working conditions," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. "Abating safety and health hazards in the workplace needs to be as important to an employer as recognizing the hazards in the first place."
The follow-up inspection is being conducted as a result of previous violations that OSHA identified after a February 2010 drowning of a trainer who was grabbed and pulled under the water by a six-ton killer whale during what SeaWorld described as a "relationship session." In August 2010, OSHA issued SeaWorld citations related to the incident. SeaWorld contested OSHA's proposed violations and penalties.
A trial was held by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, and in June an administrative law judge upheld OSHA's citations against SeaWorld. Subsequently, SeaWorld was required to abate cited hazards, including those specifically related to trainers working in proximity to the killer whales. However, since the order went into effect, SeaWorld has filed a petition with the review commission seeking additional time to abate the violation regarding trainers' interaction with killer whales. SeaWorld maintains that the petition, which is pending resolution, should restrict the scope of OSHA's follow-up inspection.
The enforcement action has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle of Florida, Orlando Division by the department's Atlanta Regional Solicitor's Office.
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