SeaWorld questions ethics of OSHA investigator
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment is requesting the U.S. Department of Labor investigate the conduct of OSHA investigator Lara Padgett, alleging she violated the ethics code for government employees, according to a report by CNN.
Padgett investigated SeaWorld for safety violations after the death of a veteran trainer killed by a 12,000-pound orca in February, 2010, according to CNN.
In a 228-page complaint filed February 27, 2014, SeaWorld said Padgett is biased against the aquatic park and accused her of improper dealings with both the producers of the documentary, "Blackfish," and animal-rights activists, according to an article in The New York Times.
In August, 2010, OSHA issued a national press release stating it had cited SeaWorld of Florida LLC for three safety violations, including one classified as willful, following the death of the trainer in February. The total penalty was $75,000.
Extensive history of problems at Seaworld
OSHA’s investigation alleged SeaWorld trainers had an extensive history of unexpected and potentially dangerous incidents involving killer whales at its various facilities, including its location in Orlando, according to the press release. The one willful citation to SeaWorld alleged that its employees were exposed to struck-by and drowning hazards when interacting with killer whales.
“Nothing is more important than the safety of our employees, guests and the animals entrusted to our care. All of our standard operating procedures will come under review as part of the investigation,” Jim Atchison, president and chief executive officer, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, said in a statement on February 24, immediately after the death of the trainer that afternoon.
After the OSHA citations were handed down in August, 2010,SeaWorld issued a press statement saying it “disagrees with the unfounded allegations made by OSHA … and (it immediately) informed the agency that we will contest this citation.
“OSHA's allegations in this citation are unsupported by any evidence or precedent and reflect a fundamental lack of understanding of the safety requirements associated with marine mammal care. Killer whales at SeaWorld are displayed under valid federal permits and under the supervision of two government agencies with directly applicable expertise: The U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the U.S. Department of Commerce National Marine Fisheries Service. SeaWorld is a member in good standing of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. Both associations make employee safety a central feature of rigorous accreditation processes.
“… Our trainers are among the most skilled, trained and committed zoological professionals in the world today. The fact that there have been so few incidents over more than 2 million separate interactions with killer whales is evidence not just of SeaWorld’s commitment to safety, but to the success of that training and the skill and professionalism of our staff.
“Since February 24, SeaWorld trainers have been caring for these animals out of the water. They will remain out of the water while we finalize and implement the measures that have progressed from the review conducted by our internal team of marine mammal experts and endorsed by an outside panel.
We look forward to challenging OSHA’s unfounded allegations and are confident that we will prevail,” said the statement.
Much of the documentation regarding the OSHA investigator’s alleged unethical behavior is drawn from the OSHA agent’s Facebook postings, according to The New York Times.
ISHN visited Padgett’s Facebook page March 3. Her Facebook page lists as a friend Martha Brock, who writes on her own Facebook page, “Animals are here in their own right, to live out their birthright. Movies about dolphins should teach us to respect them, that is, to leave them alone, to clean up our act so that we stop polluting and infringing on their home, the ocean, and to stop eating their food.”
Another Facebook friend of Padgett’s, Louie Psihoyos, is executive director of the Oceanic Preservation Society and listed on his Facebook page as a shark and marine life saver.
Makers of the film “Blackfish” contend the OSHA agent never presented them with confidential information and photos taken of her with the filmmakers occurred after the film’s completion.
Seaworld continues to contest OSHA’s enforcement action and the case is now pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit, according to The Times.