Investigation — Facility fined $5,600 by Oregon OSHA in 2013 death of head keeper

Following the release of the Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Division investigation into WildCat Haven, the sanctuary was fined $5,600 in connection with the November death of animal keeper Renee Radziwon Chapman.

“The sanctuary violated its safety procedures of locking out the cougar and working in teams. The cougar enclosures had unsafe design features and inadequate equipment was being used,” according to the report. “It is the inspector’s opinion that there was not enough manpower at the sanctuary for it to operate safely. The inclined topography of the facility made building and working with the enclosures a challenge. As a result, keepers were putting themselves in direct contact with cougars.”Radziwon

Since the attack, where Radziwon Chapman was alone cleaning cougar cages Nov. 9 and subsequently killed, the facility made a few changes looking to improve safety. The locks on the cougar lockout cages have been improved, and the cages can now be accessed from outside the enclosure, according to OSHA.

WildCat Haven released a statement March 24 in response to the investigation’s conclusion.

“OR-OSHA’s investigation found that WildCat Haven did not willfully violate workplace safety standards. One citation relates to additional reinforcement of the separately lockable section of the enclosure to increase safety during cleaning of the main section. OR-OSHA did not find that any part of the enclosure or other equipment caused the incident,” according to the statement. “The second citation alleges that an applicable safety procedure was not followed on the day of the incident. Under WildCat Haven policy, when it is necessary to enter an enclosure housing dangerous cats, two qualified staff members are to work together to secure the cats into the separately lockable section of their enclosure before entering the main section. OR-OSHA’s investigation con- ­cluded that our employee entered the main enclosure with neither another qualified employee present nor all the cougars secured when the incident occurred.”

The statement continued that both of the issues mentioned had already been addressed.

“We continue to work closely with OR-OSHA to review the agency’s findings as part of our commitment to maintaining a safe, secure work environment,” according to the statement. “As an employer, we are ultimately responsible to protect the life, safety and health of our staff and volunteers. Because of the hazards of providing sanctuary to wild animals that are both compelling and unpredictable, our greatest priority is to develop and ensure compliance with fail-proof safety procedures. We also intend to work toward developing national sanctuary safety standards for the continued well-being of those dedicated to helping captive wild cats that can never be released.”

The sanctuary has until April 9 to appeal the decision.

Among others, the investigator found that much of the owner’s attention had been focused on the sanctuary’s move to its new location, as a root cause of the issues. WildCat announced last year its plans to move from the eight acres on Parrett Mountain to a plot of 82 acres in Scotts Mills. Those plans, it seems, have been delayed.

“We have a long way to go. Really not sure at this point,” said Haven co-founder Cheryl Tuller in an email.

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