A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Keven Moore: Believe it or not, there are hazards in the popular corn maze; be careful everywhere!

October is a couple of weeks away and it’s that time of the year again where fall is in the air and haunted houses, corn mazes, and hayrides will be in full swing. 
In the past I have highlighted just how dangerous haunted house are in the past, but what about corn mazes? Can somebody get hurt or possibly killed in these confusing tangled mazes? 

In October 2014 an 18-year-old Washington man dressed in a zombie costume was killed in a freak accident during a stunt in an Idaho corn maze. A bus traveling on the uneven terrain in the corn maze accidentally killed ran over the man who was participating in the Zombie Slayer Paintball Bus.

Photos from Wikimedia

The actor was dressed in a full zombie costume when he appeared from a hiding place and ran towards the vehicle, but he tripped and fell in front of the tires as the passengers on the bus were given paintball guns to shoot at the actors.

It was not until the bus had traveled away from the victim’s location and the role players began to reset for the next bus to come along that anyone realized something was wrong. Everybody was in the environment of entertainment and fun, and safety became secondary.

After investigating the tragedy, it was determined by the local police that no crime was committed but OSHA did later fine the owner $14,000.

According to www.cornmazesamerica.com there are a total of 5 registered corn mazes in the state of Kentucky, but nationwide there are nearly 1000 corn mazes. The first modern corn maze was created in the early 1990s in the United States, although simple mazes were appearing as early as the 1980s. Since that time, the number of corn mazes has mushroomed in size.

Corn mazes have caught on like wildfire, an analogy that strikes fear in the hearts of maze operators – safety professionals – and fire marshals all across the country. What could go wrong in the middle of a dried-up cornfield, right? Well as a risk manager and safety professional the very first thing that comes to mind, is that these corn mazes are made up of dried up corn stocks.

What would happen if a corn maze caught fire with several dozen small children, toddlers on a windy fall day? It would probably be safe to say, that one such event would be tragic and probably would spell the end of a popular agritourism attraction that has swept the country.

In October 2002 the cornfield parking lot at the Amazing Maize Maze in Paradise, Penn., caught fire and destroyed 31 cars were causing more than $750,000 in damage. The parking lot had been recently mowed and was nearly ½ a mile from the road and the cars were allowed to park on the freshly mowed corn fodder. 

With a stiff west wind, the fire spread rapidly and consumed multiple vehicles. Firefighting efforts were hampered by many factors which included the limited water supply and access.

Then there was another incident that same year where a 13-year-old boy intentionally set fire to straw bales at the Whittamore Berry Farm in Markham, Ont. and was later charged with arson. Emergency crews had to evacuate 150 people as the flames spread very quickly and engulfed the popular corn maze, but luckily nobody was severely injured.

Like more catastrophic fires resulting in death, the possibility was there and it took the tragedy to happen before safety rules and regulations are imposed.

As a corn maze operator or owner here are several safety tips to prevent fires and accidents.

 Post Review Safety Rules  – Safety rules & instructions should be posted in public view and the maze operator should verbally review all safety rules. This can be done verbally or with an audible tape that loops so that all visitors can hear. 

 Post No Smoking Signs-  Throughout the property and inside the corn maze. You should also restrict the use of all matches or lighters.

 Monitor All Guests– At least two employees must monitor a corn maze during operation, at least one on an elevated platform at least 10 feet above the maze. Restrict all guests from climbing on the elevated platforms. 

 Place Fire Extinguishers Throughout Property
–  Multiple fire extinguishers should be placed inside and throughout the property.
 Invite Your Local Fire Department – The local fire department must be notified and allowed to prepare a “preplan” before the start of seasonal operations.

 No Flames – No devices, candles, torches or lanterns producing open flames should be are allowed within a corn maze.

 Limit Access – Not more than 200 persons per acre may be in a corn maze at any one time.

 Separate Parking – Motorized vehicles must not be parked within 75 feet and if parking on a cornfield, clear the land and remove all the corn fodder. 

 Create Fire Lanes –  A fire lane at least 10 feet wide must be cleared between a corn maze and structures or vegetation outside the maze.

 Provide Flashlights –  After dark, visitors may only use flashlights to illuminate their travel through the maze.

 Install A Public Address System  – a bull horn or loudspeaker ¬– must be readily available to employees to assist them in making announcements to the visitors in the event of an emergency.

 Keep Egresses Clear – The entrance and exit from a corn maze must not be blocked or obstructed. Ensure visitors know how to exit the maze quickly by following the nearest row of corn to the perimeter. Signs and arrows are posted around the perimeter of the maze, directing guests to the entrance (and exit) of the maze.

 Clear Perimeter – The perimeter around the maze should be clear of vegetation or other structures.

 Restrict Fireworks – Fireworks must not be discharged within 300 feet of a corn maze.

 Plant Late Crop – Plant a late corn crop so that the corn stalks are still green in when the maze is in use.

 Remove Trip Hazards – Paths in the corn maze must be free of debris and other trip hazards. Paths should be kept free of ruts, holes, and bumps.

 Inspect Maze Daily –  Paths should be inspected (documented) several times a day for garbage, debris, and other tripping hazards, and cleaned if necessary.

 Remove Lawn Equipment –  Lawnmowers, weed trimmers and other machines are not used in the corn maze when guests are present. 

 Final Inspection – At the close of every day, wall the maze to ensure that all visitors have left the maze.
 Post Signage, Arrows & Contact Information- Cell phones can be used in areas with adequate signal for visitors to call when lost. Signage should help guide visitors In areas without adequate signal or for guests who don’t have phones, flags can be given to visitors to use to alert those monitoring the maze.

 Work With Your Insurance Carrier –  Work with your insurance carrier and have them review your safety efforts to ensure visitor safety and to lower your risks to keep your insurance costs down.

As a visitor, I highly recommend that you follow all the posted safety rules and keep your children close by. If you visit a corn maze that doesn’t post safety rules and aren’t monitoring you from an elevated platform, then leave and visit one that does.

Prior to entering a corn maze review an aerial map of the corn maze and know where you are located in the event fire was to break out and move away from the prevailing winds and smoke to get to the perimeter of the corn maze. You could also use your map app on your cell phone to locate your location and get your bearing down.

Be Safe My Friends

Keven Moore works in risk management services. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He is also an expert witness. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both Lexington and Northern Kentucky. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com.

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