OSHA Takes a Bite Out of the Denver Zoological Foundation

Aug. 3, 2007
OSHA cited the Denver Zoological Foundation Inc. for alleged unsafe working conditions following a fatal accident where an employee was mauled by a jaguar at the Denver Zoo on Feb. 24.

A citation issued to the organization by OSHA's Denver area office alleges one serious violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act for failure to provide appropriate protocols to prevent inadvertent contact with dangerous animals. The citation carries a proposed penalty of $3,500.

“This was a tragic incident, and we hope to work cooperatively with the Denver Zoological Foundation staff to assist them in enhancing their safety and health program,” said Herb Gibson, OSHA area director in Denver. “Safety and health programs are an important part of every organization, and they instill a safety culture that reduces the potential for accidents.”

Ashlee Pfaff, 27, died from a broken neck and other injuries after she was attacked by a jaguar. A zoo employee had to shoot the jaguar when it approached members of the zoo's emergency response team who were trying to save Pfaff. Pfaff died in a Denver medical center approximately 90 minutes after the mauling from injuries to her spinal cord and spinal column.

Zoo officials said they might never know why Pfaff was killed, as she was the only staff person in the building when the incident occured. A visitor witnessed the attack from the other side of the glass and alerted some of Pfaff's coworkers. Zoo policies forbid employees from opening the doors of or entering enclosures when the big cats are inside. Pfaff apparently entered the jaguar's enclosure from a service area. It is not known if she knew the cat was inside.

At the time the incident occurred, zoo president Clayton Freiheit said, "We are deeply saddened by this loss. This keeper was a part of our family and we too are grieving the loss of one of our own."

Pfaff was the first zoo employee seriously injured by an animal in 40 years and the first fatality at the zoo.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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