I-Team: Circus equipment not subject to city or state inspection

The NBC 10 I-Team has learned that circus equipment is not subject to city or state inspection in Rhode Island.

Nine circus performers with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey were hurt Sunday when an aerial rigging collapsed at the Dunkin' Donuts Center and crashed to the floor.

First responders jumped into action helping wounded performers. The I-Team has learned that included a member of the state fire marshal's office, who was there to inspect the show's pyrotechnics but not the safety of the rigging up above.

The I-Team learned that no city or state inspectors look over circus rigging, but the industry self-regulates and follows strict guidelines laid out by their union. The riggers handle not only shows at the Dunkin' Donuts Center but other venues including the Providence Performing Arts Center.

Representatives of Local 23 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, based in Providence, did not return a request for a comment.

Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said Monday all of the permits were pulled and approved by the city.

While the circus has many moving parts, the public is at a lesser risk of injury compared to pop-up parking-lot carnivals. Last year, NBC 10 followed the state's single inspector with the building code commission as he checked the safety of amusement rides. A similar position doesn't exist for circus acts.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is handling the circus investigation.

"This can include a physical inspection of the work site and equipment involved, interviews with workers and management, record reviews and gathering any other information that will help OSHA determine which safety standards apply in this case and whether or not safety standards were violated," OSHA spokesman Ted Fitzgerald said.

A review of federal safety records shows only three violations for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey since 2006. OSHA fined the company a total of $700 for allegedly not guarding floor and wall openings and holes.

"This is not a criminal investigation. This is an unfortunate accident. We got to get to the bottom of it so it doesn't happen again," Pare said.

OSHA said there's no time frame for the investigation to be complete.