It is that time of year again when carnivals and fairs are opening up all across the country. As the Lexington Lions Fair opens in Lexington (through the 22nd) out at Masterson Station Park, I am reminded of the legendary Billy Thunderkloud and the Chieftones performances and tripping over my tongue following Miss Bluegrass Fair around the fairgrounds back when it use to be out at the Red Mile in the ’70s.
For those of you who didn’t experience the legend Billy ThunderKloud at the Red Mile, he was a full-blooded Indian from Tsimshian Nation in Canada and his Elvis-like hip shaking performance goes down as my very first concert, before Gene Simmons and KISS rolled into town a few years later. Just a little side confession — little did my father know until later that KISS was not an all girls musical group.
Just a few additional facts before I get into the meat of my article on the safety of carnivals and county and state fairs — did you know that Billy ThunderKloud actually had performed at President Nixon’s Inaugural ball? He had one big hit called “What Time of Day” in 1975 and had several other country hits, as he had a very remarkable entertainment career touring across the country performing in probably hundreds of fairs all across America’s heartland.
Every year millions will be visiting these small to large carnivals and fairs throughout the country. When it comes to safety to tell the truth, my wife is the true safety professional within our household as she has always absolutely refused to take our kids to any of these types of carnivals or fairs. She has never trusted the safety of our kids to these traveling carnivals that roll up and down our Interstates setting up in a new location every week.
The federal government estimates nearly 7000 people every year will go to the emergency room from a carnival or fair. The Consumer Safety Product Safety Commission oversees how these carnival rides are manufactured. However, shockingly enough, there currently is not any federal oversight on how these rides are to maintained or set up, as this is left up to each individual State jurisdiction.
Can you believe that? Our federal government can regulate our atmosphere, the broadcasts over our airwaves, and even regulate our endangered plants and wildlife – but they don’t regulate the safety of carnival fair rides that our children ride on every summer?
Currently there is not a uniformed set of regulations that are applicable in all 50 states, which sometimes complicates safety standards for carnival owners. Some states do a great job overseeing this, while some states actually do absolutely nothing to regulate this industry, thus allowing carnival owners to inspect their very own rides themselves. The State of Kentucky is fortunately one of those states, through the Department of Agriculture’s division of inspections and regulations, that police these carnival and fair rides.
Some states such as Ohio require that rides be inspected each time they are set up in a new location, while others will only inspect them only once a year. Kentucky requires only one annual inspection for mobile and fixed site amusements, ski lifts, water slides, air inflatables, and go-cart establishments.
For obvious reasons carnival and fair rides are supposed to be a little frightening, but they should not truly be life-threatening. However, every year people are injured and sometimes killed on these rides as the result of either equipment failure, operator error or a human rider blunder.
All you have to do is walk by these rides and look underneath and around them, and you can see that blocks of wood and other temporary means are holding them up. At least when you go to amusement parks such as a Kings Island, Cedar Point or Six Flags you will find full-time paid engineers and safety professionals climbing and crawling around these permanently stationed rides. Nevertheless, when you get near some portable rides you can often hear them squeaking and cracking as it can bring chills to your spine if you have a child on the ride.
The second factor, most concerning to my wife, is who is actually operating these rides. Now I do not want to sterotype carnival workers but their reputations go back a ways – and maybe some of you even ran off with a carnival in your rebellious days.
Operators do sometimes make serious errors, like releasing safety catches or failing to follow safety procedures thus causing injuries or deaths.
Finally, inspectors cannot protect against the actions of a rider, as they are the third and largest contributing factor for accidents, as risky, unassuming kids and teenagers do not have a sense of real danger. According to one national association of amusement rides, 85% of accidents are causde by unsafe acts on part of the rider.
Some progressive states have passed rider responsibility laws requiring riders to behave and follow all safety rules while riding certain rides. For additional accident facts go to saferparks.org
The single and most dangerous act that I ever performed at a carnival happened while visiting one in the Turfland mall parking lot back when I was in middle school. Where I happened to toss my cookies and “Now & Laters” all over my childhood friends Mike Korb and Billy Hughey, after being forced to ride the Octopus eight straight times before climbing on to another spinning ride. I can still see the horror in their eyes as they tried to climb out and flee from the moist and colorful debris that littered our seats as we spun round and round.
If you plan on visiting a Carnival or Fair this summer here are some helpful safety tips:
• Visit the carnival or fair on a weekday not a weekend night as those are the busiest days and when most accidents occur or when something may be overlooked.
• As a parent or rider you have the last say and you should inspect the ride yourself; if it doesn’t sound or look safe don’t ride it.
• Do not wear clothing that dangles or drags or hangs outside the ride and always wear shoes.
• Make sure that your seat belt works and is snug/tight.
• Keep all arms, legs and heads inside the ride.
• If you or your child gets scared, sometimes you can inform the operator and they can stop the ride and let you off.
• If you see something unsafe, be sure to stop and tell the operator and then carnival/fair official who can be located by finding security detail or an off-duty officer.
• Make sure the ride is really over before you try to get off.
• Follow all safety rules; they are to keep you safe.
• Listen carefully to the operators’ safety instructions and follow them.
• Talk to your children about amusement park ride safety.
• Make sure that the ride is appropriate to the rider.
• Never ride while under the influence of alcohol.
I do not want to diminish the great things that the Lexington Lions Club is doing for our very own community. It is a great organization that has operated the Bluegrass Fair for over 51 straight years. Just over the last decade alone, the club has contributed more than $1.3 million dollars for the purchase of eyeglasses and provided the funds for eye-related surgeries in Lexington. They have also offered financial assistance to a variety of local agencies that have programs related to vision or hearing problems. This also includes the establishment of a hearing aid bank, a retreat for adults and children with hearing or vision disabilities, and the support of
state and international projects in these areas.
Therefore, I will say that you cannot live in constant fear. So I would encourage you to visit the Bluegrass Fair and other carnivals and fairs this summer. Many of these are organized as fundraisers for many good charitable organizations. But I would definitely move safety to the forefront and keep a keen and watchful safety eye while participating in one of America’s favorite pastimes.
Keven Moore is director of Risk Management Services for Roeding Insurance (www.roedinginsurance.com). He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both the Lexington and Northern Kentucky offices. Keven can be reached at email@example.com.