Providence Circus Accident: Animals Inspected but Not Workers
Tuesday, May 06, 2014
When the circus comes to town, animals are checked for safety...but not workers.
State inspectors at the Department of Environmental Management and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals inspected the Ringling Brothers animals when they arrived in Providence on Friday, but not one of the six different federal, state, and local public safety departments checked the equipment to ensure workers' safety.
Sunday's trapeze collapse during a Ringling Brothers show at the Dunkin' Donuts Center injured 9 circus workers, and many of them seriously.
Numerous state and local agencies were contacted by GoLocalProv in the investigation of the Ringling Brothers accident. The Commissioner of Public Safety, Providence and Rhode Island Fire Marshals, the Department of Health, and state and federal Departments of Labor all denied any responsibility in inspecting or regulating circus equipment.
The Department of Environmental Management and State Veterinarian’s office inspected the Ringling Brothers animals. The circus was reported in compliance with all DEM health and safety regulations.
“We typically work with SPCA to inspect the animals,” DEM Communications Director Gail Mastrati told GoLocal. “We had no issues of concern.”
DEM handled their responsibility, but who (if anyone) should have inspected the equipment used by the Ringling Brothers entertainers?
State Building Code Commissioner Jack Leyden acknowledged that his commission inspects amusement park rides but was not responsible for inspecting circus equipment.
“I don’t know if there is an agency for that,” Leyden said.
State legislation outlines why amusement park rides are inspected but circuses are not. Section 23-34.1-16 in Rhode Island General Law states that "Bazaars, fairs, and circuses shall not be inspected under these regulations unless, and only to the extent that such bazaars, fairs and circuses have amusement rides or devices associated with them."
Most of the state and local authorities contacted by GoLocalProv directed the spotlight to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA spokesperson Ted Fitzgerald told GoLocalProv that OSHA “responded to yesterday’s incident and opened an inspection at that time.”
“The purpose of OSHA’s inspection will be to determine whether or not there were any violations of workplace safety standards in connection with this incident,” Fitzgerald said in a written summary of the details of the inspection thus far. “The inspection can include a physical inspection of the worksite and equipment involved, interviews with workers and management, record reviews and gathering any other information that will help OSHA determine which safety standards apply in this case and whether or not safety standards were violated.”
If the inspection identifies violations, OSHA can issue citations and fines to the offending party. OSHA does not discuss specific details of inspections while they are ongoing. Fitzgerald said it was still too early in the process to predict a completion date for the investigation.
Feld Entertainment, Inc., the parent company of Ringling Brothers, issued a statement Monday and addressed the accident.
"The accident is currently under review by both the company and authorities to determine what happened. Outside authorities were on site yesterday to inspect the equipment," the statement read.
It’s clear that OSHA is tasked with cleaning up the mess. It remains unclear if any person or organization has the authority to better protect against such messes.
“I don’t know if there are any state or local inspection requirements,” Fitzgerald told GoLocalProv. “I would defer to state and local authorities on that.”
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