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Circus accident provides lesson on importance of safety system redundancy

Our government has put regulations in place to help better ensure the workplace is safe. Rules abound that range from the need to promptly clean slippery spills to the importance of safety rails and harnesses when there is the potential for a fall. But what happens when the work you do is inherently dangerous? Construction workers, ocean fisherman and factory workers face hazards throughout their workday. How do we make sure there are not unnecessary risks?

One concept that helps better ensure a safe workplace is safety system redundancy. Safety system redundancies are, in the most basic sense, back-ups. Window cleaners working at an extreme height may have both guardrails and a harness to help keep them safe. Similarly, acrobatics may have additional safety measures when completing a dangerous performance.

Circus case provides an example of need for safety system redundancy

A recent circus case provides an example of the importance of safety redundancies. Although this may not cover a wide segment of the work population, it does give a clear example of the importance of safety system redundancies.

The case involves an acrobatic troupe with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The acrobats prepared for a stunt that relied on a rigging device that suspended them from the ceiling. During the stunt, a metal clip in the rigging device broke, plunging all eight acrobats to the floor onto another worker who was below. All nine were injured.

Upon investigation, the United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited the group that lined up the performance for a “serious infraction.” The agency stated the accident was the result of an overloaded carabiner. Had additional precautions, like safety system redundancies, been taken, OSHA claimed there would likely not have been an accident. As such, OSHA fined the group $7,000.

Additionally unique in this situation was that the acrobats were also able sue the circus group. When faced with the evidence, the parties agreed to a settlement of $52.5 million.

From the circus to the streets: The case provides an important lesson for all workplaces

While most workplaces do not have the extreme risk of being suspended and flying through the air, general workplace safety redundancies remain valuable. OSHA requires certain machinery have back-ups to make sure critical items for electrical and mechanical parts that could result in injury to workers are fully operational prior to use. Warehouse storage may be designed with multiple features to prevent from tipping over.  Employers that fail to meet these expectations can face penalties, as shown in the case above. For the workers that are injured as a result of these failures, the exclusive remedy is likely a Worker’s Compensation Claim.

Since each accident has its own unique set of facts, it is important for individuals to seek counsel to properly protect their rights.

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