Circus operator cited for violations in deadly NH tent collapse

–Cheryl Senter / The Boston Globe

Federal safety officials are seeking more than $30,000 in penalties from a circus operator after inspections revealed that poor assembly practices and disregard of weather advisories led to a tent collapse in New Hampshire last August that killed two and injured dozens of others.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a citation to Florida-based Walker International Events on February 4. It included 14 serious workplace safety violations, for which proposed fines total $33,800.

The tent to collapse on August 3 killed a man and his daughter and injured more than 30 others, including two circus employees. The National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the area earlier that afternoon and winds reached up to 75 mph.

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An inspection of the tent in the days after the collapse found that Walker International Events employees failed to construct the tent using proper instructions, neglecting to use and properly anchor the required stakes, remove damaged stakes, and disassemble the tent when winds were expected to exceed 60 mph, according to the citation.

“Walker International Events’ failures to erect the tent correctly and heed warnings of severe weather needlessly placed at risk the lives and well-being of its employees and everyone else in and around the tent that day,’’ Rosemarie Ohar Cole, OSHA’s New Hampshire area director, said in a press release Thursday.

Inspectors uncovered around a dozen other hazards at the scene, including an absence of marked exits, fire extinguishers, and protective eyewear for employees using machinery. Conditions that put employees at risk of receiving electric shock, burns, lacerations, and other injuries were also observed, authorities said.

Walker International Events has 15 business days from the time they received the citation to respond and challenge the violations. A phone number for the company was out of service Thursday, and a request for comment via email was not immediately returned. An OSHA spokesman told the Associated Press officials will meet with the company on February 24 to discuss a settlement.

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“No enforcement action will bring the victims home to their families and community but we want to send a message to this and other employers to follow proper procedures at all times and take effective and appropriate action to prevent an incident such as this from ever happening again,’’ Ohar Cole said.

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