On Safety

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A safer circus?

May 1, 2015

A circus is an opportunity to witness death-defying acts. And for the performers, the risks are very real.

A year ago, eight Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performers fell more than 15 feet to the ground during a “human chandelier” act at a Providence, RI, show. The stunt consisted of the performers being suspended in the air by their hair, which was attached to rigging above them.

According to OSHA, the circus’ rigging for the act put too much weight on a carabiner, causing it to fail and drop the acrobats. A ninth worker, who was on the ground, also was injured.

The circus was cited by OSHA under the General Duty Clause and fined $7,000.

In addition to paying the fine as part of a settlement with OSHA, the circus agreed to take the following actions:

  • A registered professional engineer will review all aerial acts.
  • Every circus unit will be provided a technical book for every act.
  • Each act will have a written checklist for equipment and hardware inspection.
  • Every circus unit will host an annual safety day addressing employee safety topics.

“This agreement goes beyond this one case. It commits Ringling Bros. to continual, effective and detailed corrective action that will address and enhance safety for all its aerial acts, so that catastrophic incidents, such as the Providence fall and the needless worker injuries that resulted, never happen again,” Patrick Griffin, OSHA area director in Rhode Island, said in an agency press release.

Although circus spectacles draw the crowds, few spectators want to see an act fail and lead to injuries. In addition to protecting the workers, creating a safer circus will help ensure a more pleasant experience for attendees young and old.

The opinions expressed in "On Safety" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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