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Ringling Bros. to pay fine, boost safety after 'hair-hanging' accident

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Monday that Palmetto, Florida-based Feld Entertainment Inc., owner of Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus, has agreed to settle charges stemming from a 2014 incident in which nine circus employees were injured.

Under terms of the agreement, the company will pay a fine of $7,000, which OSHA said is the maximum allowed, and implement several safety enhancements intended to protect performers in aerial acts.

OSHA launched an investigation after nine employees were seriously injured during a May 2014 “hair-hanging” act in Providence, Rhode Island, when a piece of equipment failed and sent eight performers tumbling more than 15 feet to the ground, where the ninth employee was injured.

The OSHA inspection found that the carabiner used to lift performers was not loaded according to manufacturer’s instructions. Going forward, the company has agreed that all new and existing aerial acts will be reviewed by a registered professional engineer, and that it will develop a written checklist for equipment and hardware inspections for each act.

Ringling Bros. also will be required to submit documentation to OSHA indicating that the hazard has been corrected and preventive measures put in place.

“This agreement goes beyond this one case,” Patrick Griffin, OSHA’s area director in Rhode Island, said in a statement about the settlement. “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.”