Late last year, performances resumed in a Cirque du Soleil show after changes were made to the choreography and equipment used in the scene in which a performer died in a fall.

Sarah Guillot-Guyard ascended too quickly on June 29, 2013, during the climactic battle scene, causing a wire rope she was suspended from to come out of a pulley and sever, state investigators said at the time.

The show reopened 17 days later but without the battle scene. It was later replaced with a different scene and eventually a projected version of the battle scene in November 2013.

First to die

Guillot-Guyard was the first performer to die in an onstage accident in Cirque du Soleil's history.

Nevada's Occupational Safety and Health Administration informally settled with Cirque du Soleil Nevada and MGM Grand after Guillot-Guyard's death.

After initially issuing several citations and proposing penalties, OSHA cited Cirque du Soleil on two counts and fined the company $7,000. The agency cited MGM Grand on one count but didn't issue any fines.

Cirque executives said 80% to 90% of its performers’ injuries involve soft-tissue damage such as muscle or joint strains that accumulate over time and aren’t linked to a major accident or a single career-ending event.

High injury rates

But Cirque stands out for the number of injuries to its performers, many of which become workers’ compensation claims. A Wall Street Journal analysis showed that in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available, Cirque’s Kà show in Las Vegas had a higher rate of injury than all but 78 workplaces on a list of nearly 52,000 of the most dangerous compiled by OSHA.

Nicolas Panet-Raymond, Cirque’s head of safety, said that some circuses classify their performers as contractors, which means they don’t have to provide any injury insurance coverage for them. By contrast, Cirque considers its performers employees. That means, he said, that in most places where it operates, the state or country requires the company to pay for workers’ compensation insurance so that workers can get money and health care if they are injured.

Most top professional sports teams, including Major League Baseball, which are among the only workplaces to come close to Cirque in likelihood of injuries, give workers their full salary until their multiyear contracts expire. In the National Football League, injured players receive only a portion of their salary for a few years if they can’t play, but they generally receive large upfront bonus payments to make up for the risk, according to sports agents and lawyers.

Source: The Wall Street Journal