| WASHINGTON, April 11
WASHINGTON, April 11 A U.S. appeals court on
Friday upheld a federal occupational safety agency's finding
against SeaWorld Entertainment Inc following the
workplace death of one of its killer whale trainers.
The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of
Columbia Circuit could have a major impact on how SeaWorld
presents its shows because it would require increased separation
of humans and killer whales.
The three-judge panel, split 2-1, held that SeaWorld had
violated its duties as an employer by exposing trainers to
"recognized hazards" when working with killer whales.
A spokesman for SeaWorld, which operates 11 parks around the
United States, had no immediate comment on the ruling.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration
(OSHA) had fined the company $75,000 after trainer Dawn
Brancheau died in February 2010. She drowned after being pulled
underwater by Tilikum, a 12,000-pound (5,400-kg) bull orca at
the SeaWorld site in Orlando, Florida.
The fine was later reduced to $12,000 but SeaWorld was more
concerned by the federal agency's application of federal safety
law to an unusual workplace situation.
OSHA has told SeaWorld it could resolve the problem by
requiring trainers to be protected by physical barriers or by
adopting other abatement measures.
The appeals court concluded that OSHA did not overstep its
authority in bringing the action against SeaWorld.
"Statements by SeaWorld managers do not indicate that
SeaWorld's safety protocols and training made the killer whales
safe; rather, they demonstrate SeaWorld's recognition that the
killer whales interacting with trainers are dangerous," Judge
Judith Rogers wrote on behalf of the court.
She played down SeaWorld's concerns about the impact on its
operations, saying that improved safety "does not change the
essential nature of the business."
Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote a dissenting opinion noting that
people who work in dangerous fields in the sports and
entertainment context are aware of the risks.
OSHA has "departed from tradition and stormed headlong into
a new regulatory arena," he said.
The case is SeaWorld v. Dept. of Labor, 12-1375.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Howard Goller and Tom