FROM: U.S. LABOR DEPARTMENT
OSHA issues hazard alert letter to Hope Elephants following death
Maine elephant refuge instructed to follow industry safety standards
Employer name: Hope Elephants
Inspection site: 49 Hatchet Rd., Hope, Maine 04847
Date of incident: James Laurita, co-founder, curator and elephant manager of the Hope Elephant Refuge was found dead in the refuge's compound on Sept. 9, 2014, with a crushed chest.
Investigation findings: OSHA's inspection found that Mr. Laurita routinely entered the compound to work with the two elephants then in residence at the refuge. As a result, OSHA has issued a hazard alert letter to Hope Elephants' board of directors noting the hazards of having individuals routinely enter the elephant enclosure without protection against crushing injuries caused by elephants and recommending that protected contact, consistent with industry standards, be used when employees work with elephants.
The letter also recommends that Hope Elephants develop and implement a policy as to how it will ensure that elephant care providers are not present in the same unrestricted space as elephants, except in rare circumstances as detailed in the policy. While elephants are no longer present at the facility, the letter instructs the board to notify OSHA of its progress in protecting workers if and when elephants are brought back to the facility or any other owned or managed by the company.
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums' standard for elephant management and care stipulates that institutions have adequate infrastructure to manage and care for elephants with barriers and/or restraints in place to increase employee safety. The AZA measures compliance with the standard through a determination that elephant care providers do not share the same unrestricted space with elephants, except in certain, well-defined circumstances.
"James Laurita's death is a tragic example of what can happen when employers fail to follow industry requirements and to take the necessary steps to protect employees. The care and management of elephants and other wild animals can be a rewarding profession, but not if it comes at the cost of a worker's life," said Maryann Medeiros, OSHA's area director for Maine.