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Fatal lion attack renews focus on zoo worker safety

Georgia residents may remember that in late December 2018, a lion fatally attacked a 22-year-old intern cleaning one of the enclosures of an animal sanctuary in North Carolina. The state's OSHA office and the federal Department of Agriculture are preparing reports on this incident, which has elsewhere renewed the focus on zoo worker safety.

The duty of property owners to provide a work environment free of preventable hazards is prescribed under OSHA's general duty clause. The North Carolina OSHA office has six months to issue any citations for the breach of this clause. In 2016, OSHA cited an animal park in Oklahoma for allowing workers to be in physical contact with lions and tigers, so something similar may occur with the North Carolina animal sanctuary.

A representative of the Association for Zoos and Aquariums says that such requirements were not in place a decade ago. Elephant handlers in particular were free to walk and stand near elephants until OSHA introduced barrier requirements in 2011. Zoos, for their part, are beginning to pair their workers and train new zookeepers only with smaller, less dangerous animals.

It should be kept in mind that zoo attacks are rare. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded four attacks between 2011 and 2017. In all, there are around 6,700 animal caretakers and veterinarians employed in zoos across the U.S.

Those who are injured on the job may want to see a lawyer about filing for workers' compensation benefits. To be eligible, it is not required to show that the employer neglected workplace safety. However, victims must waive their right to sue their employer in the future for the same incident. The lawyer may assist with the filing and even mount an appeal if the claim is denied. Benefits typically cover medical expenses and a portion of lost wages.

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