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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. 

Emergency Workers responding

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.

Animal Safety

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.

9 circus performers injured

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 Response

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.”


Related Slideshow: Circus Accident: Animals Inspected but Not Workers

Prev Next


  • Fire Department

Providence Fire officials said they are not responsible for inspecting circus equipment.

Prev Next

Rhode Island

  • Public Safety Commissioner
  • Fire Marshal
  • Department of Labor
  • Department of Health

Multiple state agencies said they were not responsible for inspecting the circus equipment.  Many of them directed GoLocalProv to OSHA's post-accident inspection.

Prev Next

United States

  • Department of Labor

The U.S. Department of Labor has no role in circus equipment inspections in Rhode Island.  The Department of Labor also directed GoLocalProv to OSHA's inspection.


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Why should RI officials inspect workers and equipment of a private, traveling enterprise? Isn't that the responsibility and obligation of the enterprise itself to keep its operation safe? We may be responsible for the RI facilities they use and making sure they are up to code, so that if it was Dunkin Donuts Center wiring, mechanism, or connector, we could be called to task. Even if we accept the premise the RI should inspect the workers and their gear, short of tension testing in a lab environment, how could a RI visual inspection have prevented THIS? Sounds like the carbiner manufacturer might have some explaining to do. Note also that inspection opens up to liability. (Although, the public officials and inspectors WERE exonerated from any faulty judgment and blame in connection with The Station nightclub fire, weren't they...And that WAS their job to do.)

Comment #1 by Nancy Freeman on 2014 05 06

I'm not giving to much credence to the initial failure report as it is pretty non-specific, but having only a single point of contact (and a caribiner at that)with no safety seems negligent.

Pretty jerky headline GoLocalProv.

Comment #2 by Bob Quindazzi on 2014 05 06

Oh, so now it's time for more rules & regulations? Great.

They won't quit. They won't quit until the circus is kaput, and the serfs are strapped to their sofas - 'for their personal safety' - drooling in front of their TV sets.

Comment #3 by paul zecchino on 2014 05 07

The animals can't check their own equipment or surroundings. They can't complain to visitors or call a government or union representative. I'm glad they're being checked on, and hope that abuse would be dealt with harshly.

Nancy Freeman - You're all over this one. Nice job.

Just to add the performances are unique as is the equipment. As paul zecchino alluded to, we don't need more rules, regulations or a new state inspection office to deal with this.

The acts have an inherent risk, I'm sure the performers do what they can to minimize those risks while giving a show people will be willing to pay for. We go to the circus to see something different, if they just walked around the auditorium they'd be out of business.

Other than that refer to Nancy Freeman's comment.

Comment #4 by Wuggly Ump on 2014 05 07

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