California Authorities Cite SeaWorld San Diego For Not Properly Protecting Employees

Another wave of controversy is washing over SeaWorld, as the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health has handed the company’s San Diego park four citations for not making sure employees who work with killer whales are properly protected.

Three of those citations are categorized as serious, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune, and says SeaWorld failed to put in place an effective “injury and illness prevention program” designed to spot workplace hazards that could result in serious injury or death.

In two of the citations officials said that the park doesn’t have procedures to protect workers “rode on the killer whales and swam with killer whales in the medical pool” and “who were present on the slide outs with killer whales in various pools.”

A Cal/OSHA spokeswoman told the Union-Tribune that the agency’s investigations and the resulting citations were kicked off by a complaint, though SeaWorld wouldn’t identify the source of the complaint.

“All employers are required to have a safety plan that looks at all of the jobs and duties, looks at any hazards related to those duties and takes the appropriate steps, whether it’s specific work practices or protective equipment in order to keep employees safe on the job because the goal is to have people go home safe and sound,” the Cal/OSHA spokeswoman noted.

The investigation found that SeaWorld doesn’t have procedures for responding to “imminent hazards,” including a way to get personnel away from the area with the hazards. And the park doesn’t have an effective safety plan, Cal/OSHA’s report says, as it requires trainers to sign a confidentiality agreement that the agency said discouraged them from informing their employer of “hazards for fear of reprisal.”

SeaWorld San Diego said it has put in place safety precautions like fast-rising pool floors and personal emergency air systems for those in the water with the whales. The park says it will appeal the citations, which come with a total fine of $25,770.

“There is no higher priority for SeaWorld than the safety of guests and team members and the welfare of our animals,” the park said in a written statement Thursday. “The citations issued by Cal/OSHA today were not precipitated by any workplace incident, accident or injury, and they reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the requirements of safely caring for killer whales in a zoological setting.”

SeaWorld has been the subject of much criticism since the documentary Blackfish came out in 2013, chronicling alleged mistreatment of orca whales by the park as well as accusing it of violating Occupational Safe and Health Administration laws.

The documentary looked at the death of SeaWorld Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was killed in front of park visitors when an orca named Tilikum pulled her into the water and kept her under it during a performance. The documentary created quite a public relations headache for the marine park, landing it in Consumerist’s Worst Company In America contest for the first time in 2014.

Just recently, Mattel confirmed it had stopped making all SeaWorld-branded merchandise, including SeaWorld Trainer Barbie.

State cites SeaWorld for safety violations [San Diego Union-Tribune]

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