Is OSHA Caving to Sea World?

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Is OSHA Caving to Sea World?

From The Daily Kos, 8/19/10

A few months ago I posted a diary here about the death of a killer whale at Sea World, and the Congressional hearing that followed. Specifically, my diary focused on Congressman Alan Grayson’s shameless shilling on behalf of Sea World at that hearing. For the past 6 months, OSHA has been investigating the details surrounding the tragedy and the numerous incidents involving killer whales injuring their trainers. The statutory deadline for OSHA to issue a ruling (and any fines, citations, etc) is next Monday. Since OSHA has used the entirety of their allotted window for the investigation, and since an employee of Sea World was killed in horrific circumstances, it seems reasonable to assume that something substantial will result from OSHA’s efforts. However...

Last Monday (8/16/10) the Orlando Sentinel reported that a delegation from Sea World had traveled to the OSHA offices in Atlanta for a meeting. There were suits and lawyers and briefcases. Yes, it’s hard to fathom, but the corporation that was being investigated was allowed to make an 11th hour "presentation" to the regulatory agency charged with investigating. While we don’t know the results of their private meeting (no sunshine allowed!) we can reasonably assume that Sea World was making their case against any regulation or punishment.

Even though many of their trainers have been injured and a few have been killed, there has never been any OSHA regulation or punishment in any of the cases over the years. Every lawsuit brought by the injured or families of the dead has been settled out of court by the very deep pockets of Sea World. Documents have been kept private through bulletproof confidentiality clauses in the settlements. Nobody outside the Orlando Sheriff’s department and OSHA has seen the Sea World video of the mauling death of Dawn Brancheau.

So a few questions arise...

Will OSHA do their job? Let’s be clear, OSHA is the government agency that is supposed to protect workers in their workplace. If Sea World is not penalized and forced to change their practices, aren’t they complicit in the next death or injury that will surely occur?

What role will our Congress play? Did the Congressional oversight hearing that was held after the death even accomplish anything? Sure, Sea World took a bit of a verbal hit from scientists and the animal welfare community, but nothing stuck and the press all but ignored it. It was largely a non-event, and nothing changed in their daily practices. Sea World has been "reviewing" their protocols and keeping trainers out of the water while the investigation has been ongoing, but you can bet they are itching to get back to "business as usual".

One other question keeps nagging at me...

Where does Congressman Grayson stand in all this? He has long positioned himself as a champion of the little guy over corporations and has spoken passionately about the need for sensible government regulation. Because it is located in Orlando, Sea World is his constituency. And while they are a big money corporation, they are obviously in need of some long-overdue regulation. But those animal trainers are a part of his constituency, too, and it’s important that he remember their welfare. Before another employee falls victim to corporate profit-mongering over employee safety.

While I certainly hope that Mr. Grayson hasn’t attempted to influence OSHA in this matter ... if he does, we’ll find out eventually. Many of the comments of my last diary on this topic castigated me for taking Mr. Grayson to task on this issue and minimizing its importance ("its one little aspect of his job, and he’s overall a great guy"). While I fully understand that we won’t agree with our officials 100% of the time, I see this as an example of an incredibly important metric for a politician. Government oversight of corporations is important. Congress needs to make sure the regulators do their jobs. That’s why we hired them.