ORLANDO, Fla. -- SeaWorld has reached out to the federal agency investigating the February death of a killer-whale trainer at SeaWorld Orlando about the possibility of negotiating a settlement even before the safety investigation is complete, according to a source familiar with the inquiry.
The goal is to strike what is known as a "pre-citation settlement" with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which has been investigating SeaWorld's safety practices since Feb. 24, when trainer Dawn Brancheau, a University of South Carolina graduate, was killed by a 6-ton killer whale named Tilikum.
Pre-emptive agreements with OSHA are rare, and reaching one would require Orlando-based SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment to agree to worker-safety changes.
But a settlement also could allow SeaWorld to effectively blunt any fallout from the closely watched probe by ensuring that it ends as quickly as possible -- and by avoiding the kind of scathing indictment that investigators issued three years ago after a separate incident at a SeaWorld in San Diego, when they declared that it was "only a matter of time" before a killer whale killed a trainer.
It was not clear whether OSHA is willing to consider an advance settlement with SeaWorld. The agency recently has signaled a more aggressive enforcement approach for theme parks and other entertainment venues.
OSHA's top official, Assistant Labor Secretary David Michaels, put the entertainment industry "on notice" last month after a string of worker deaths and injuries, including deaths at SeaWorld Orlando and Walt Disney World.
The source familiar with SeaWorld's interest in a pre-citation settlement spoke only on condition of anonymity because the person is not authorized by either party to discuss the issue.
In a prepared statement, SeaWorld said it is cooperating with OSHA.
"As part of this process, SeaWorld has communicated with OSHA on many occasions. SeaWorld has not entered into any type of negotiations with OSHA at this time, however," the company said. "Because the agency has not yet concluded its inspection, it would be inappropriate to comment further."
OSHA also would not discuss the status of the probe. The agency has six months, until Aug. 24, to complete its work.