Amusement Ride Manufacturers & Operators: A Flawed System

Rollercoaster safety at amusement parks

In response to an article titled: Ride experts call 11-year-old Pleasantville girl’s fatal fall from Wildwood’s Morey’s Pier Ferris wheel a freak occurrence – By RICHARD DEGENER and DAN GOOD 

Amusement ride operator safety proceduresThe standard rhetoric spewed by manufacturers and operators highlights meeting the requirements for the posting of signage, height requirements, mechanical specifications and regulations. These are all very necessary and meaningful components of the industry, but meeting those requirements alone does not mean that they provided the safest ride possible. It means that the basic industry requirements were met. Manufacturers provide vital operational information, safety procedures, and inspection criteria to operators of amusement rides and/or devices. When the manufacturer passes along information that is faulty or incomplete, sells a ride that may or may not meet specific design criteria or was not appropriately tested before being placed in the stream of commerce, serious incidents/accidents can, do and will occur.

The owner or operator uses the information as supplied by the manufacturer as their roadmap to develop standard operating procedures, implement formal inspection criteria, project staffing requirements, and much more. When the foundation as provided by a manufacturer has weak links in it so will the owner or operator’s operational safety program. It is understandable there can be unforeseen issues with the manufacture and operation of an amusement ride or device; machinery wears out, breaks, and fails – design flaws and operational oversights emerge. However, a number of the incidents/accidents that have surfaced over the last 10-plus years are a combination of design flaws and operational oversights—pure and simple. The bottom-line— just because requirements are present and accounted for does not mean they are adequate. The industry must utilize the information from previous incidents/accidents to eliminate or further reduce the potential for similar situations occurring. In select situations the expense to correct the identified issue(s) might be significant, but ultimately, I believe saving a life is worth the expense.

Read the next installment in this series

Amusement Ride Incidents/Accidents: Setting the Stage: 1 of 4

Ferris wheel amusement ride safety

In response to an article titled: Ride experts call 11-year-old Pleasantville girl’s fatal fall from Wildwood’s Morey’s Pier Ferris wheel a freak occurrence -By RICHARD DEGENER and DAN GOOD

For this blog, I will primarily focus on the death of Abiah Jones and Ferris wheels in general. Most of the discussion could be applied to additional types of amusement rides and devices. Just to be clear, a Ferris wheel is an amusement ride consisting of a small/large vertical wheel with places for people to sit or stand spaced evenly around the outer circumference (, 2011). Ferris wheels have been around for hundreds of years. It was not until the late 1800’s that the quest for large scale Ferris wheels began. A 250 ft. Ferris wheel was debuted in 1893 at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The design characteristics and features have not changed much during that time-frame.

I am following the events surrounding the recent death of an 11 year girl that fell from a Giant Wheel at Morey’s Pier in Wildwood, New Jersey. Abiah Jones, 11, fell to her death on Friday, June 3rd, 2011 while riding the Giant Wheel (Ferris wheel) attraction. I am concerned about the predictability of the responses and approach that most amusement ride and device owners, operators, industry consultants and organizations provide and take when an incident/accident occurs within the amusement ride and device industry. The typical industry response starts with how safe the industry is and cites it stellar safety record based on the number of rides given annually compared to the number of injuries – and yes, the incident/accident numbers are low – no one argues that fact, but patrons are being unnecessarily injured or killed.

The industry tries to downplay the involvement of the manufacturer and/or operator of the ride or device – warning signs were posted, the rider met the requirements, regulations are stringent, and so forth. The final assault on the intelligence of the riding public comes in the form of misinformation and blame. Quotes get peppered into articles like “freak accident” or “rider error” in a disingenuous effort to inform the public of the type of incident/accident and/or the responsibility of the incident/accident that occurred. What the amusement industry does not want you to know is that similar and known incidents/accidents do happen and that unsuspecting and rule abiding guests can be injured or even die while riding or experiencing an amusement ride or device. The death of Abiah Jones—an 11 year-old girl—falling from a Giant Wheel reflects that reality appropriately.

First and foremost, the numbers of ride/device related injuries and fatalities are low. However, incidents/accidents can, do and will continue to happen within the amusement industry and many of them unnecessarily. The industry is fully aware how most incidents/accidents occur—mainly because of prior incident/accident history gathered from the past 100 years of industry trial-and-error (experimental design, etc.) —a premise that the industry was built on. The industry has progressed and safety has slowly evolved since its early beginnings in the United States, but they have not gone far enough. Giant Wheels (Ferris wheels) have been around for hundreds of years—well beyond any experimental design phase. In fact, most present day amusement rides and devices are direct descendants of rides from the past or follow similar design considerations—and as an industry, they are fully aware of the types of incidents/accidents resulting from use.

It is fairly simple to utilize this historical data to address the problem areas of the industry and require appropriate and meaningful change to prevent known types of incidents/accidents from occurring. Interestingly enough, after doing a quick internet search (10 minutes), I learned of 10 incidents/accidents resulting from falls from Ferris wheels in the United States—the majority of which were from gondola style rides like the Giant Wheel. I would wager that more incident/accident examples exist concerning Ferris wheels. Once again, I will reiterate that the industry has made strides concerning patron safety and that incidents/accidents are more isolated compared to the beginnings of the industry – the true comparison of progress.

The amusement industry has a tendency to compare safety records to other forms of entertainment offerings (playgrounds, bicycle riding, and more) — a diversionary tactic that is irresponsible. Better tactics—show the public your industry progress and explain your continued efforts to further the safety of amusement rides and devices. Certain segments of the industry are responsible for a larger share of the incidents/accidents, nevertheless, they are still occurring and the majority of them could be prevented through better design, education, enforcement and the sharing of information and ideas.

Read the next installment: Amusement Ride Manufacturers & Operators: A Flawed System

The Dangers of Competitive Eating Events

Dangers of competitive eating contests

Over July 4th weekend I sat down to enjoy the Nathan’s hotdog eating contest on ESPN – a long standing tradition. I decided to discuss the risks of competitive eating events after watching Joey Chestnut win for the 4th time by consuming 54 hotdogs and buns in 10 minutes and hearing about the arrest of Takeru Kobayashi of Japan, a former champion and competitive eater, for storming the stage at the event. Kobayashi had refused to sign a contract with Major League Eating which kept him out of the contest. I know, who knew?

Competitive eating has become a wildly popular “sporting” event over the last decade or so. The popularity of food shows and challenges has moved this along I am sure. With its growing popularity and ability to draw large crowds it is a recipe for success for event planners, producers and venues but how safe is it as an event planner to produce and what is the potential impact on participants? After some review, I was able to determine that the risks associated with these events can be high. Competitors over the years have suffered strokes, choked and even died from competitive eating contests – those are some of the more immediate affects. Some long-term affects might include morbid obesity, profound gastroparesis (delayed emptying of the stomach) and intractable nausea and vomiting. I am not sure the fame and prize money warrants that kind of self-destruction. It is a relatively new sport so the verdict is still out on any additional long-term conditions.

competitive-eating-can-be-a-dangerous-event_event-safety-servicesInterestingly enough, most competitive eaters train religiously to ensure that they avoid the potential negative impact – a select group. It is important to take the competitive eating world seriously. Competitive eating competitions are popping-up everywhere. Eating competitions draw enormous crowds and can generate a buzz for your next event; however, they can be a recipe for disaster if certain considerations are not followed. Safety must be a priority and the participants must be fully warned of the risks (this would be a good time to consult with an attorney to develop an airtight contract addressing those risks). It would also be a good idea to consult with the Major League Eating Association to seek sanctioning for the event (this could help with liability concerns). Some additional basic rules you should follow developed by the International Federation of Competitive Eating is to limit competitors to 18 years or older, provide a controlled environment and have emergency medical technicians present. Additionally, if you spot Kobayashi at your next event you might want to call in some security reinforcements in order to prevent any disruptions. All-in-all, these events can be a great draw and provide a good time for many but make sure that as with any event you are planning or hosting to do your homework and mitigate any potential risks.

Safety Failure: 5-year-old Boy Dies at Inflatable Center

Brian Avery provides safety consulting and expert services for inflatables

I am following a recent incident concerning the death of a 5-year-old boy at an inflatable center in Wichita, Kansas. I read a recent article titled: Inflatables’ owner says misuse had role in death. I recognize I am not privy to all the facts of the matter; however, based on what I read I felt compelled to write. I’m witnessing a disturbing trend within the indoor inflatable industry concerning a lack of employee training and ensuring a proper presence at each inflatable device.

To say the least, I was disappointed by the claim made by the owner/operator in this matter. How does a 5-year-old misuse an amusement ride/device? Does a 5-year-old fully understand the situation and the potential ill-effects from participating in an activity such as this? I don’t know any 5-year-old that could fully appreciate the potential for death while at play; especially in what appears to be a controlled and inviting environment. For that matter, I don’t know many adults that do either given these parameters.

5-year-old-dies-at-inflatable-ride-centerInflatable devices are a form of interactive play equipment and are highly participative in nature due to the requirements of the patron to interact with the environment to initiate a desired outcome. As a result, inflatable devices provide a unique and real opportunity for injury. In fact, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in 2001 issued a safety bulletin citing a rise in incidents relating to improper operation, anchoring and set-up concerning inflatable amusement devices. Could this 5-year-old have understood the inherent danger associated with an amusement device of this type? No. Was it the child’s responsibility to learn and self-impose the rules and requirements of the inflatable center? No. Whose responsibility was it then? First and foremost, it is the responsibility of the manufacturer to properly design and build an inflatable device that is free of any defects. In this instance, the device, at a minimum, should have contained the user. Unfortunately, many of the devices are not designed to meet exacting standards and do not adequately address issues of user safety – more and more of them are being bought on the cheap from overseas suppliers.

When design alone cannot eliminate the hazard the next best solution is to educate the user on the proper use of the device. This information should be supplied by the manufacturer to the owner/operator and predominantly posted at the facility and on each device. Furthermore, the information should be shared with each user and the guest should acknowledge that they understand the content. If a child is too young to comprehend or retain the information then it should be the responsibility of a parent to ensure that the child complies.

The final phase is to enforce the established safety policies and practices of the facility. This is done by complying with the recommendations of the manufacturer concerning the required number of attendants at each device. The CPSC also established a set number of attendants in 2001 (1 operator for devices under 15 feet and 2 for those over). A properly trained attendant(s) at the device in question could have allowed for the attendant to intervene and address the 5-year-old’s behavior. A properly trained attendant could have used enforcement tactics established by manufacturer provided guidelines and could have potentially averted any ill-effects from his supposed misuse. Inflatable device manufactures are required to use ASTM International standards in the design and development of inflatable devices.

It is my understanding that Kansas only has insurance requirements for inflatable amusement devices. ASTM F 24 on amusement rides and devices is the only standards-writing body with exacting safety standards on amusement rides and devices. As of February 2010, Forty-four states have adopted ASTM F 24 amusement ride and device standards either completely or in part. Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming and Utah are the six states that do not have any state ride/device safety laws. Over time, ASTM F 24 standards have become considered common industry practice within the industry.

In the article Mr. Zogleman (owner/operator) stated “it’s been a one-sided thing.” In my opinion he is correct. He and his staff had an obligation to ensure that the guests are properly warned and watched. I get personal responsibility – I just don’t understand how it applies to a 5-year-old boy at a “FUN” center.


ASTM F 24 on Safety for Amusement Rides and Devices

Amusement park ride safety

ASTM International, originally known as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), has been working with the amusement industry since 1978 in the development of amusement ride and device safety standards. ASTM is one of the largest independent standards-writing bodies in the world. Producers, consumers, government and academia have all had a hand in developing and providing input on various standards on design and manufacture, testing, operation, maintenance, inspection and quality assurance of amusement rides and devices since 1978.

ASTM F 24 on amusement rides and devices is the only standards-writing body with exacting safety standards on amusement rides and devices. The adherence to these standards is voluntary, unless the adoption of these standards has occurred at the state level or an organization has self imposed these standards. As of February 2010, Forty-four states have adopted ASTM F 24 amusement ride and device standards either completely or in part. Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming and Utah are the six states that do not have state ride safety laws.

ASTM F 24 standards have become considered common practice within the industry. Essentially, this means that the patron is provided with a level of protection; however, the protection is commonly experienced after an incident on an amusement ride or device. Regardless if a state or entity has adopted the standards whole or in part, the organization could be held to design and manufacture, testing, operation, maintenance, inspection and quality assurance practices within the standards. The benefit comes in the form of potential compensation as a result of the loss due to the actions or omissions of the fixed site location or mobile organization. ASTM F 24 standards are still evolving in an effort to address the complexity and ever-changing landscape of the amusement ride and device industry.

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