Hundreds watched as an aerial act at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performance in Providence, R.I., went badly wrong on May 4, 2014. A group of aerialists plummeted to the ground, injuring nine of them.
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 that performance. Feld Entertainment Inc., headquartered in Palmetto, Florida, owns the circus.
The proactive measures are part of a settlement agreement with OSHA concerning a citation issued to the circus in connection with a 2014 incident in which nine employees were injured, eight of them seriously. Eight aerialists 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.
“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.
OSHA’s inspection determined that the carabiner used to lift performers was not loaded according to manufacturer’s instructions. 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.
“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 also will pay the full OSHA fine and submit documentation that the hazard has been corrected and preventive measures put in place. The settlement will become a final order of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission on May 13, 2015.
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.