The Pump Handle

Death on water slide at Schlitterbahn follows worker death

When I heard the news about the 10 year old who died on Sunday at the Schlitterbahn water park in Kansas City, I couldn’t help but remember Nico Benavides, 20.

Benavides died in March 2013 while a lifeguard at Schlitterbahn’s park on San Padre Island, TX. Benavides and a co-worker were assigned to do maintenance on the park’s wave pool. They were struck and pinned underneath a mechanical door. Benavides family kept him on life support for several days until his organs could be donated.

OSHA investigators found that the company did not have an effective lock-out/tag-out program. It is a basic, but vital, safety procedure to ensure that while equipment is being repaired power to it is disabled with a pad lock or a tag. OSHA issued citations to Schlitterbahn (under a parent company called Enterprize Management, Inc.) for several violations, including one classified as willful, and proposed a $96,000 penalty. The company contested OSHA’s citations and penalty. Ultimately it settled the case with OSHA for five serious and one repeat violation (instead of a willful) and paid a $66,000 penalty.

Following Benavides’ death in 2013, Schlitterbahn said

“The safety of our employees and guests is of paramount importance to us.”

A repeat safety violation—one that led to an employee’s death—hardly demonstrates safety is of paramount importance.

Following the death on Sunday of Caleb Schwab, 10, Schlitterbahn said:

“Given that safety is our first priority, we have closed the Kansas City park today…”

Investigations into the young patron’s fatal injury will tell us whether safety was really Schlitterbahn’s first priority.