OSHA investigates its own inspector in "Blackfish" controversy - San Diego, California News Station - KFMB Channel 8 - cbs8.com

OSHA investigates its own inspector in "Blackfish" controversy

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(CBS News 8) A federal inspector who led an investigation into SeaWorld Orlando following the death of a trainer is now being investigated by her own agency, for allegedly fraternizing with the producers of the controversial CNN documentary "Blackfish."

"Blackfish," which casts a critical look at SeaWorld, focuses in part on the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was killed in February 2010 by 6-ton killer whale Tilikum.

That death led to a federal investigation into the park's program for training Orcas by OSHA, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health administration, which has since cited SeaWorld with "willful" safety violations, recommending SeaWorld trainers not be allowed to work in close contact with killer whales. This drawn-out legal battle currently rests in the hands of a federal appeals court in Washington D.C.

The agency charged with investigating SeaWorld is now also investigating the conduct of its own employee, veteran OSHA inspector Lara Padgett, who led that original inquest into the park's killer whale-training program.

 This investigation comes after a number of photos surfaced on a theme park industry web site, which shows Padgett socializing at screenings and premiere events of "Blackfish" with the documentary's cast and crew, including a number of former SeaWorld trainers featured in the movie.

This potential conflict of interest, first reported by the Orlando Sentinel, calls into question whether Padgett, as a supposedly objective federal inspector, was actually biased against SeaWorld in her investigation.

In a statement, OSHA told CBS News 8 it is "committed to fair and effective enforcement of safety and health requirements in the work place," adding that "allegations involving employee conduct are taken seriously."

SeaWorld told the Orlando Sentinel it is aware of Lara Padgett's apparent connections with the producers of "Blackfish," which it calls "misleading, inaccurate and agenda-driven." SeaWorld declined to comment further because of the OSHA case still before the US Court of Appeals.

A producer for the documentary "Blackfish" told the CBS affiliate in Orlando that OSHA inspector Lara Padgett "had absolutely nothing to do with the production of Blackfish," and that Padgett is "a woman who takes her job seriously."

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