Circus fined $7,000 for ‘human chandelier’ stunt that injured 9

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Federal regulators have fined Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus $7,000 for an accident during a show that left nine people injured, many seriously.

The so-called “human chandelier” stunt was performed May 4 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, R.I.

Eight performers sustained serious injuries when the apparatus holding them failed, and they plummeted more than 15 feet. A ninth employee was hurt on the ground.

An investigation by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration found the accident occurred because the carabiner — a metal ring used as a connector — supporting the performers was improperly loaded.

OSHA cited the circus for one serious safety violation with a proposed penalty of $7,000, the maximum allowed by law, regulators said in a statement Tuesday.

“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 — approaches that are developed, evaluated and inspected by professional engineers,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.

“While the $7,000 penalty is the maximum allowable by law, we can never put a price on the impact this event had on these workers and their families,” he said.

A spokesman for the circus said the company has not yet made a decision about whether to appeal. It has 15 days to decide.

“We do not agree with the conclusion that they drew that the way the carabiner was loaded was the sole case of the accident,” said spokesman Steve Payne. “But we’re going to make changes out of an abundance of caution.”

The hair-hanging act is no longer in the show, and the circus does not have any plans at this point to bring such a stunt back, he said.

“The safety of our performers, our crew — as well as our audience — is our top priority,” said Payne. “No one wants an accident like this to ever happen again.”