ORLANDO, Fla. -- Federal investigators have cited Walt Disney World with four safety violations and proposed $69,000 in fines, following a probe into the death of a resort mechanic who was killed while working on a roller coaster in Disney's Animal Kingdom.
Russell Roscoe, a 52-year-old attractions mechanic, died March 14, one day after he was struck by a ride vehicle while performing maintenance on Primeval Whirl, a "wild mouse"-style coaster in which spinning, four-person ride vehicles descend through a series of tight, flat turns. Roscoe and other workers were "wet testing" the ride -- in which some employees spray water from the top of the lift platform while others inspect systems such as brakes -- when the accident occurred.
Investigators with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Disney failed to maintain key gate sensors that are designed to alert workers to press an emergency stop switch whenever a gate is open to an area in which an employee could be struck by the coaster.
The agency recommended Disney put the sensors on a preventative maintenance system, routinely test the sensors as part of regular operations and use a communication system to verify personnel are not in dangerous areas before the ride is activated.
During the investigation, the agency said it also discovered Disney did not use fall protection when employees were kneeling on the roller coaster tracks to conduct pressure checks, exposing them to falls from as high as 19 feet. They also found stairwell handrails that extended too far and created projection hazards. And they found that Disney had not installed guardrails at the top of the lift platform -- nearly 40 feet above the ground where employees sprayed water during the wet testing.
OSHA has twice before cited Disney for such guardrail violations -- including following an investigation of the July 2009 death of a monorail driver, when investigators discovered that workers performing maintenance on the interior cabins of the trains were placed at risk of 8-foot falls without protection.
While a relative pittance for a company of Disney's size, the $69,000 in total fines proposed by OSHA is a hefty amount for the agency. OSHA proposed fines totaling $75,000 for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment following a probe triggered by the February 2010 death of a SeaWorld Orlando killer-whale trainer.
Disney said Friday that it has made several safety upgrades to Primeval Whirl, including improvements to the gate sensors, additional guardrails and an automated water system for brake testing.
Disney also said its engineers turned the ride over to its operations team on Friday and that it may reopen by Saturday. The coaster has been closed since January.
"We have conducted a thorough internal review of the incident and have implemented several safety enhancements to Primeval Whirl, which address the concerns raised by OSHA," Disney World spokesman Bryan Malenius said.
Disney would not say whether it intends to challenge any of OSHA's findings. The resort could seek to negotiate down the amount of the fines.
Roscoe wasn't the first employee killed while working on Primeval Whirl, which opened in April 2002. In November 2007, Karen Price, a 63-year-old ride operator, was loading guests onto the attraction when she was hit by one of the vehicles. Price, who was leaning over the vehicle when it began moving forward, was pushed 10 feet forward and off of the ride platform, where she fell 3 feet to the ground and struck her head. She died five days later.
In response to that accident, Disney extended Primeval Whirl's platform, added striping to delineate loading and unloading zones, and installed sensor mats in restricted areas that automatically shut down the ride if someone steps on them. OSHA cited Disney with five violations after that incident and proposed fines totaling $21,500. Disney negotiated the amount down to $14,250.
Earlier that same year, on April 30, 2007, an unidentified worker who was bent over a ride vehicle to pick up trash was pushed over the edge of the platform by the vehicle. She suffered a minor head injury. At the time, Primeval Whirl's ride vehicles would advance slowly through the load area and dispatch automatically. Disney subsequently changed the ride's controls to give ride operators more control over the vehicles' movements.
Disney bought Primeval Whirl from the French company Reverchon, though Disney designers made subsequent modifications and Disney now claims to be the ride's manufacturer, according to OSHA records. The attraction is actually comprised of two coasters that operate side-by-side, doubling its ride capacity.
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