The legal issues enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) presented in SeaWorld of Florida v Perez are that employers are required to ensure the safety of their employees. OSHA requires that employers should ensure that the place of employment is free of recognized hazards causing or likely to cause death of severe injury or harm (OSHA, n.d.). The court interprets this to mean that employers have a legal duty to ensure that the workplace is free of conditions or activities that the industry or the employer identifies as dangerous or cause or likely to cause death or serious harm when there is a practical method of abating the hazard (OSHA, n.d.).
The plaintiff established a valid violation under the General Duty Clause of OSH Act by stating a violation of four elements. First, SeaWorld failed to keep its workplace free of hazards and exposed the employees to these hazards. Second, SeaWorld recognized the presence of a condition or activity that was hazardous. Third, the hazard was likely to lead to death or serious physical harm. Fourth, there was practical and useful method of removing the hazard (OSHA, n.d.).
The elements of a valid clause were satisfied under OSH Act because SeaWorld failed to keep the workplace free of danger by allowing employee to work with killer whales without adequate protection (Sea World, n.d.). The animal trainers were allowed unprotected contact with the killer whales like Tilikum where they would be exposed to potential of being struck-by and drowning while doing performances. Also, the animal trainers were allowed to conduct both “drywork” and “waterwork” with the killer whales without adequate protection. The elements of valid clause were satisfied because SeaWorld recognized the danger (Ko, Mendeloff & Gray, 2010). SeaWorld had developed special protocols for Tilikum that prohibited any form of “waterwork” and required guests and personnel to stay at least five feet behind the pool walls or three feet away from Tilikum’s head. The company also recognized the danger because they constantly described the need for caution around killer whales. Also, there are other recorded incidents where killer whales caused harm such as pulling trainers under water or biting. Other instances, the killer whales lunged out of the water towards the trainers an indication that SeaWorld recognized the hazard these animals posed.
The clause of causing death of physical injury was satisfied by the death of Dawn Brancheau including another trainer who died in 2006 in another SeaWorld facility. Finally, the fourth clause was satisfied by the fact that there were practical steps that could have prevented the death and injuries that occurred (Ko et al., 2010). For example, putting distance between the trainers and the killer whales could prevent any harm befalling the trainers. The killer whales can still do the same tricks without the trainers being directly in contact with them (Sea World, n.d.).
OSHA enforces the workplace and safety health standards by requiring employers to comply with the regulations under the Occupation Safety and Health Act of 1970. OSHA also collaborates with states in helping develop safe working conditions. It also provides research, education, information, as well as training on occupational safety and health (OSHA, n.d.).
I agree with the court’s decision because SeaWorld should have evaluated and strengthened their safety standards. SeaWorld could have done more such as preventing trainers from going underwater with the killer whales. In most cases, animal instincts can resurface even in animals under captivity, and so SeaWorld could have ensured that trainers are kept a distance away from the killer whales. When trainers were allowed on pool walls, shelves, and ledges, they are exposed to the risk of dangerous animal behavior (Ko et al., 2010). SeaWorld should have known better.
- Ko, K., Mendeloff, J., & Gray, W. (2010). The role of inspection sequence in compliance with the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) standards: Interpretations and implications. REGULATION AND GOVERNANCE, (1), 48.
- OSHA Worker Rights and Protections: Employer Responsibilities. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/as/opa/worker/employer-responsibility.html
- Sea World of Florida, LLC v. Thomas Perez. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.govinfo.gov/app/details/USCOURTS-caDC-12-01375/USCOURTS-caDC-12-01375-0