Posted by Heidi Schwartz
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will implement ongoing safety enhancements in aerial acts to protect employees against injuries like those sustained by its aerialists during a May 4, 2014, performance in Providence, RI. Feld Entertainment Inc., headquartered in Palmetto, FL, owns the circus.
The proactive measures are part of a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor concerning a citation issued to the circus by the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration in connection with a 2014 incident in which eight employees were badly hurt. They were performing an act called a “Hair Hang” when the carabiner used to support them failed and they fell more than 15 feet to the ground. The aerialists, along with a ninth employee who was struck by the falling workers, sustained serious injuries.
In violation of industry practice and the carabiner manufacturer’s instructions, the company improperly loaded the carabiner by attaching two pear-shaped steel rings to the bottom of the carabiner, with each steel ring having three wire cables running from it to the corners of the rigging apparatus. This created a tri-axial loading situation as opposed to the proper loading situation where the carabiner is loaded only at two points along its major axis. This improper manner of loading resulted in the carabiner being overloaded, causing the carabiner to fail and having all eight employees attached to the rigging fall to the ground.
The agency cited the circus for one serious violation of occupational safety standards and proposed the maximum fine of $7,000. The circus initially contested its citation and penalties to the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
“This agreement goes beyond this one case. It commits Ringling Bros. to continual, effective, and detailed corrective action that will address and enhance safety for all its aerial acts, so that catastrophic incidents, such as the Providence fall and the needless worker injuries that resulted, never happen again,” said Patrick Griffin, OSHA’s area director in Rhode Island.
“We sought and achieved a settlement that will maximize safety for the circus’ employees and minimize the possibility of future falls and injuries. It’s incumbent upon the circus to follow through on its pledge with a thorough, effective, proactive, and continuous safety program,” said Michael Felsen, the department’s regional solicitor of labor for New England.
Under the settlement, the circus agrees to take the following actions on an ongoing basis:
- All new and existing aerial acts will be reviewed by a registered professional engineer.
- For each act, assemble and provide to each circus unit a technical book.
- Develop a written checklist for equipment and hardware inspections for each act.
- Each circus unit will conduct an annual safety day that will address employee safety topics.
The circus will also pay the full OSHA fine and submit documentation that the hazard has been corrected and preventive measures put in place. The settlement became a final order of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission on May 13, 2015.
“This catastrophic failure by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus clearly demonstrates that the circus industry needs a systematic design approach for the structures used in performances – approaches that are developed, evaluated and inspected by professional engineers,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “While the $7,000 penalty is the maximum allowable by law, we can never put a price on the impact this event had on these workers and their families. Employers must take steps to ensure this does not happen again.”
The Providence Area Office conducted the OSHA investigation. Senior trial attorney Carol J. Swetow of the department’s regional Office of the Solicitor in Boston litigated the case for OSHA.