A federal judge recently upheld OSHA's citation against SeaWorld, barring public performances in which the park's animal trainers swim in the water with killer whales. In addition to denying the trainers their dream job, this sets a dangerous precedent for future government interference with other animal trainers and professionals. Animal trainers are highly educated, skilled, and dedicated professionals, whose work is their passion. They acknowledge, understand, and accept the risks associated with their jobs, much like professional athletes, race car drivers, astronauts, and firefighters. It is their right to decide what safety measures are necessary, and what risks are acceptable. This petition asks President Barack Obama, under whose authority OSHA resides, to issue an executive order removing professions that involve human and animal interactions from OSHA's oversight, and place it in the hands of those with more experience in this field.
I am writing concerning the May 30, 2012, ruling by Judge Ken S. Welsch, SeaWorld vs. OSHA, in which the Occupational Safety & Health Administration's citation against SeaWorld was partially upheld, banning the direct interaction between SeaWorld's trainers and the park's killer whales during public performances. I believe Judge Welsch and OSHA to be well intentioned but misguided in their decisions, and some unintended consequences and endless legal battles may result. The ruling sets a dangerous precedent for further interference by OSHA in all human/animal performances. In addition, OSHA has not ruled out future citations against SeaWorld for non-performance interactions.
While OSHA claimed this ruling a victory for employees, the very employees OSHA was supposedly protecting, the SeaWorld killer whale trainers, have opposed OSHA's decision and wish to resume in-water performances with the whales. These trainers are highly educated, skilled, and dedicated professionals, whose work is their passion. They acknowledge, understand, and accept the risks associated with their jobs, much like professional athletes, race car drivers, astronauts, and firefighters. It is their right to decide what safety measures are necessary, and what risks are acceptable.
Furthermore, SeaWorld has already proven they are willing and able to improve working conditions without government oversight. Following the February 24, 2010, death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, which prompted the OSHA investigation, SeaWorld ordered all in-water interactions with the killer whales suspended until a thorough safety review could be completed. As Ms. Brancheau was pulled underwater when a whale grabbed her pony tail, SeaWorld ordered all trainers with long hair to keep it tied up in a bun. SeaWorld is also working on more advanced safety measures, most notably a fast rising floor for their killer whale pools. SeaWorld undertook all of this on their own, without recommendations from OSHA.
SeaWorld and their killer whale training staff have an excellent safety record going back over forty-five years, proving they are more than capable of setting their own safety protocol. (Statistically speaking, working with killer whales is safer than driving a race car or playing football.) There are also numerous national and international organizations that represent marine parks and their employees, such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, Ocean Embassy, and the International Marine Animal Trainers Association, which can oversee safety at SeaWorld and other similar facilities.
For these reasons, I am asking you to issue an executive order that removes professions involving human and animal interactions from OSHA's jurisdiction. A proposed draft of this order follows this letter. This is not an unprecedented step, as numerous professions already fall outside OSHA's authority, either by law, such as government employees and coal miners, or by OSHA's own choice, such as professional athletes. Indeed, it should be noted that the closest profession to being a marine mammal trainer is athletics, which OSHA has frequently and publicly declined to involve itself with.
I hope you will give this proposal its due consideration, and act quickly to restore the dreams of SeaWorld's killer whale trainers and their millions of fans around the world.
Proposed Executive Order language:
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration shall have no authority to regulate nor issue citations pertaining to professions that involve planned and intentional interactions between humans and animals. This pertains to all interactions, including but not limited to public performances, training exercises, medical procedures, husbandry, and relationship building.
Those people and organizations with the authority to manage professions that involve planned and intentional interactions between humans and animals, including but not limited to establishing safety protocol and determining acceptable risk, shall be:
a) The employees who are directly involved with the interaction,
b) The employer of employees directly involved with the interaction,
c) Organizations, including but not limited to professional associations and employee unions, that represent the employees directly involved with the interaction,
d) Organizations, including but not limited to trade groups and business associations, that represent the employer of employees directly involved with the interaction,
e) Or any combination of the four aforementioned groups.
No employee shall be forced into an animal interaction that the employee deems to be unsafe. Employees may choose to still participate in an animal interaction even if it has been deemed to be unsafe. Employees are free to choose to accept risk.
All prior and existing regulations, citations, and rulings by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration that pertain to planned and intentional professional interactions between humans and animals are declared null and void, effective immediately.
All prior and existing court rulings in favor of regulations, citations, and rulings by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration that pertain to planned and intentional professional interactions between humans and animals are hereby overturned, effective immediately.
The authority of the United States Department of Agriculture - Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to monitor animal health and welfare and to enforce the Animal Welfare Protection Act is in no way affected by this order.