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Keven Moore: Fall festival time means amusement rides — and that means concern about safety

Fall Festivals and Oktoberfest’s are all in full swing all across the country as families and kids are all riding the carnivals rides in search of that death defying thrill. Unfortunately this year there have been more than enough examples of just how dangerous these carnivals and amusement parks rides can be.

On May 7, an 11-year-old girl was critically injured and left disfigured after her scalp was ripped off when her hair got caught in the spinning mechanism on a carnival ride in Omaha, NE. She had five surgeries and is facing a year of recovery.

On Aug. 8, a Ferris wheel accident at a country fair in Greene County malfunctioned, causing three little girls ages 6, 10 and 16 to be thrown from their basket, causing them to fall 30 feet. All three were hospitalized leaving one in serious condition. Authorities later blamed worn out rivet fasteners on the underside of the carriage for the cause of the accident.


On Aug. 7, a 10-year-old boy was decapitated at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City  while riding on raft ride called the “Verrückt.” The slide, which is  billed as the world’s tallest water slide,  was closed for the remainder of the season, after the accident.  Two additional women on the ride also suffered facial injuries and the investigation is ongoing, but there were reports indicating that the restraints on the raft were known to malfunction and come loose.

The reality is that the carnival and amusement park industry flourishes off thrill-seekers and the adrenaline rush they get from feeling their lives are in danger. The accidents this year is proof that amusement park rides actually be deadly.

When these accidents occur though, the real question is who should be held accountable for rider safety? Moreover, who has the duty or responsibility to regulate the safety of consumers at an amusement park?

Twenty-nine deaths on amusement rides or water slides have been reported to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) since 2010, and it’s been estimated that nearly 7000 people every year will go to the emergency room from an amusement ride.

The amusement park industry has successfully lobbied against federal oversight for decades, and the CPSC doesn’t regulate rides at permanent parks like the one in Kansas. It oversees only traveling carnival rides, like the Ferris wheel that broke in Tennessee. Even then, federal investigators don’t conduct routine inspections; they respond only after accidents.

So in essence there really isn’t any federal oversight as to how these rides are to be maintained or set up, as this is left up to each individual State jurisdiction.

As a trained risk management and safety professional this perplexes me. 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 the amusement rides that our children ride on?

The fact is that with 50 states, no two inspect rides the same way. It is a patch work of individual state laws in need of some serious federal oversight. In some states, inspectors will carefully evaluate the safety components of these rides, while in other states they do not.

According to an investigative report from NBCNews.com in 2013, there were 17 states that do not require amusement park rides to be inspected by a state agency. Seven states — Mississippi, Alabama, Nevada, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Utah — have no laws at all that require inspections of amusement rides. They are only obligated to purchase the required level of liability insurance and provide inspection reports to police if there is an investigation into an accident on-site. In these states the insurance industry set the safety standard and they only require annual inspections

In the state of Kansas where the decapitation occurred, parks are allowed to perform their own, using private, licensed inspectors, and then the state does random audits of the paperwork. On the other end of the spectrum, New Jersey is considered one of the toughest for its team of state-trained inspectors and engineers who routinely inspect rides. Pennsylvania, likewise, has a rigorous system that includes more than 1,000 state-trained inspectors, according to an article in Insurance Journal.

Without a uniformed set of regulations that are relevant in all 50 states, this only seems to complicate safety standards for carnival owners, and in some cases allowing carnival owners to inspect their very own 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.

The other factor that weighs into this risk which isn’t often discussed is who is actually operating these carnival rides. Not to stereotype carnival workers but historically their reputations precede them. But some operators in the past have made some serious egregious mistakes by 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 caused by unsafe acts on part of the rider.

I am the first to push back when it comes to more governmental oversight. But being a risk management & safety professional with more than a couple of decades of real life experience I understand that safety has to be regulated by government to ensure cohesiveness, compliance and enforcement. It has to have some teeth to ensure compliance, or otherwise the influence of the almighty dollar will win out in many cases.

A great example federal oversight success as it relates to safety is the results OSHA has had in the US workforce. The American work force has seen vast improvements in both workplace injuries and fatalities. Approximately 14,000 workers died in 1970 and today according to the most released data, it has been reduced to 4,821 workplace fatalities (2014). All while the workforce nearly doubled from 78.5 million to 130 million workers.

These accidents occurring on amusement rides is a public health problem, and we need to treat it as such regardless of how infrequent they may or may not be occurring. The government has a duty to set uniform standards for amusement rides, which includes mandatory inspections, enforcement and proper training protocols for inspectors and ride operators.

Be Safe My Friends.


Keven Moore works in risk management services. 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 Lexington and Northern Kentucky. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com.

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