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Federal workplace regulators found Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at fault for the malfunction during a "hair hanging" acrobat act that left nine performers seriously injured in May. Feld Entertainment Inc., the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, will also be fined $7,000, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced Tuesday.
The horrifying incident during a live circus in Rhode Island led to eight female performers plunging 15 feet from an apparatus when a metal clasp snapped. One performer below was also injured. The clasp — or caribiner — failed because it was "improperly loaded ... in violation of industry practice and the carabiner manufacturer's instructions," OSHA found. "This catastrophic failure by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus clearly demonstrates that the circus industry needs a systematic design approach for the structures used in performances," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.
Feld Entertainment Inc. has until Nov. 15 to appeal the fine and citation, according to OSHA. Steve Payne, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment, said the corporation is in the process of deciding whether to appeal the penalty, which they received Friday. "We don’t necessarily agree with a conclusion that the way the caribiner was loaded was the sole cause of this accident," Payne told NBC News. Payne said the ring was designed to hold 10,000 pounds and was only supporting 1,500 during the act. But OSHA said improper distribution weight due to the loading error caused the clip to fracture.
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— Elisha Fieldstadt