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U.S. Court Upholds Ruling Against SeaWorld Over Trainer Safety


WASHINGTON, April 11 (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Friday upheld a federal occupational safety agency's finding against SeaWorld Entertainment Inc following the workplace death of one of its killer whale trainers.

By a vote of 2-1, the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held that SeaWorld had violated its duties as an employer by exposing trainers to "recognized hazards" when working with killer whales. The ruling means the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) can require SeaWorld to limit the interactions trainers have with killer whales.

The federal agency had fined the company $75,000, a sum later reduced to $12,000, after trainer Dawn Brancheau died in February 2010. She drowned after being pulled underwater by Tilikum, a 12,000-pound (5,400-kg) bull orca at the SeaWorld site in OrlandoFlorida.

OSHA, which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor, had told SeaWorld it could resolve the problem by requiring trainers to be protected by physical barriers or by adopting other abatement measures.

SeaWorld, which operates 11 parks around the United States, said in a statement that it already has introduced new safety procedures, including removing trainers from the water during shows. Even after the court's ruling, "there will still be human interactions and performances with killer whales," the statement said.