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Believe it or not, live ammo finds its way onto “Wild West” set

September 22nd, 2015  |  David Stephanides

It’s one of those fact situations that seem hard to comprehend, but an OSHA ALJ found that an operator of a western theme park failed to take adequate steps to prevent the use of live ammunition at its reenactment of an Old West-style gunfight.

Lucky enough to have escaped death, a senior cowboy employed by the park was seriously injured while performing in a recurring Sundance Kid show. A doctor found a “bullet hole through [the victim’s] left frontal bone,” a “bullet tract extending from the left frontal scalp in a parasagittal pan through the frontal, parietal, and occipital lobes,” and a bullet fragment lodged “above [the victim’s] tentorium cerebelli in the midline against the calvaria.” “Put simply, [he] had been shot in the head…,” the ALJ noted.

How did this happen? Incredibly, show performers were permitted to bring their own guns capable of firing live rounds and their own ammunition (blanks or otherwise) to their performances. Tragically, a live round found its way into a performer’s gun, though a later police investigation found no intentional acts. Since the incident, the operator changed its policy to prohibit the use of outside ammunition and to permit only blank-firing guns.

Finding a violation of the OSH Act’s General Duty clause, the ALJ assessed a penalty of $1,250. Though the Secretary of Labor initially recommended a gravity-based penalty of $2,500.00, which reflected an incident characterization of high severity and low probability, the amount was reduced by 50% due to operator’s size and lack of violation history.