Are you an “expert” amusement ride operator? Test your knowledge regarding important amusement industry concepts that separate experts from novices.
Over the last 10 years or so the inflatable industry has experienced a growth explosion. Prior to that, you could mention the word inflatable and people would give you a puzzled look. You would follow-up by giving a description and provide some additional terms such as moon-bounce or spacewalk and a light bulb would go off; oh, I get it! Wow! How things have changed.
Today, indoor inflatable locations and outdoor rentals are a staple for many events. An inflatable device can be many things. To be clear, we are discussing inflatable amusement devices. The kind that you can bounce on, climb over, slide down and crawl through. They can be dry, wet or a combination of the two. Inflatable devices used for amusement purposes generally are classified under the broad heading of amusement rides and devices. Standards exist that address the operation, design and inspection of inflatable amusement devices for both indoor and outdoor applications.
The popularity of these devices can be attributed to the several things. They are portable, mechanically simplistic and require very limited investment. They are the exact opposite of a typical amusement ride or device, allowing an inexperienced entrepreneur an opportunity to capitalize on the benefits of operating an amusement device. Ah ha! Danger starts to present itself. What we must realize as event producers and goers is the operation of an inflatable device presents challenges that meet or exceed that of some fixed-site amusement rides.
Case in point, inflatable devices are considered a form of interactive play equipment. These devices are highly participative in nature due to the requirements of the patron to interact with the environment to initiate a desired outcome. Most fixed-site amusement rides only require that the patron sit-down and be strapped-in for the ride. As a result, inflatable devices provide a unique and real opportunity for injury. Event producers must be diligent and should understand that there are inherent risks associated with the use of inflatable devices.
Event producers should investigate inflatable event rental companies prior to utilizing their services. Request that they provide policies, procedures, insurance documents, and training manuals. Additionally, you should ensure that they comply with ASTM F-24 on amusement rides and devices. It is also important to recognize that certain inflatable devices are more prone to incidents than others. The key is to DO YOUR HOMEWORK — please understand the basics.
MINIMUM SAFETY REQUIREMENTS
- Structure must be properly erected, operated and maintained during its use
- Fall zones must be correctly padded
- Manufacturer’s recommendations, operating instructions, safety inspections and maintenance procedures must be followed
- The device must be supervised and monitored at all times by properly trained personnel that understand and enforce the required safe practices for the unit
- Applicable laws, standards and industry safe practices must be followed
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
Rider error – James Barber, a former New York ride inspector and current industry safety consultant, was quoted in this article saying that “Maybe she panicked when she realized she was that high or maybe she was standing and the ride came to a stop.” Barber also stated: “It’s a pretty unique accident.” This is another tactic used by the amusement industry – blame the rider. In this case – let’s blame an 11-year-old girl. People make mistakes in every setting, which on occasion, leads to negative and unintended outcomes.
The amusement industry agrees to sell tickets to a wide range of people including those who may be unable to foresee, understand or comply with what is expected of them. The reality of the matter is that the industry is providing ride and device experiences that are unique to each rider. As a result, the industry and external agencies must contend with the fact that the combination of ride and device types, rider decisions, operator considerations, inspections practices, oversight, and design play a role in each incident. The industry is inviting guests to actively participate or be transported on numerous rides and devices of varying extremes. Each rider is unique and their experiences and knowledge with amusement rides and devices diverse (Gubernick, 1999). The amusement ride and device industry should accept this fact and recognize its obligation to address the uniqueness of the riding public and find ways to prevent incidents through better design, education and enforcement. The industry comes across as disingenuous with the continued emphasis on rider error considering the number of factors that result in an amusement ride or device incident/accident.
It is time for the industry to stop the game playing with the public. The public no longer wants to hear this message following an accident –“statistically speaking the amusement ride and device industry is one of the safest forms of entertainment.” That is neither an adequate nor an appropriate response following the injury/death of a patron. Do you want to be that statistic – an injured or dead one? An 11-year-old girl died while riding an amusement ride. Patrons do not want to be blamed for what they may or may not know or understand.
Below are example incidents that are similar to the situation discussed. The industry is fully aware of the problems associated with this type of device and have chosen to forgo any meaning corrective action.
- Woman, 60, in critical condition after fall from Ferris wheel (Friday, September 28, 2007) – At the Middle Tennessee District Fair in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, a 60-year-old woman was seriously injured when she fell from the top of a Ferris wheel. The woman fell 30 feet from the top of the ride and landed onto spokes near the center axle of the wheel.
- Boy, 3, injured in 25-foot-fall from Ferris wheel (Saturday, August 4, 2007) – At the State Line Heritage Days festival in Dayton, Ohio, a 3-year-old boy fell 25 feet from a Ferris wheel and landed on pavement. He suffered a fractured skull and was hospitalized in critical condition, but was expected to recover.
- Boy, 6, dead after 90-foot-fall from Ferris wheel (Sunday, June 18, 2006) – At the San Joaquin Fair in Stockton, California, a 6-year-old boy died from injuries he suffered in a fall from a giant Ferris wheel. The boy was riding the 90-foot-tall ride alone, even though he was only 6 years old, and the gondolas are not equipped with seat belts or safety restraints.
- Mentally disabled man rescued in Ferris wheel mishap (Tuesday, August 2, 2005) – At the Mississippi Valley Fair in Davenport, Iowa, a 31-year-old mentally disabled man panicked when his seat came to a stop at the top of a 50-foot Ferris wheel. He slid underneath his seat’s lap bar in an apparent attempt to either jump from the ride or climb down to the ground. The man’s caregiver, who was seated next to him, grabbed his arm and tried to pull him back into the seat, but lost her grip. The man then fell about 15 feet to the ride’s hub.
- Rider blames lap bar failure for Ferris wheel fall (Thursday, July 14, 2005) – The 48-year-old man who fell from a Ferris wheel at an Indiana carnival on Saturday is blaming the mishap on a faulty lap bar. The man says that, as he attempted to wave to his wife who was standing on the ground, he leaned on the lap bar with one hand and it opened. He fell 20 feet, hitting another gondola during his fall. He suffered a broken leg, a separated shoulder and head injuries.
- Man falls from Ferris wheel at carnival (Saturday, July 9, 2005) – A 48-year-old man was hospitalized after he suffered a 20-foot-fall from a Ferris wheel at the Batavia Windmill City Festival in Batavia, Illinois. The man was riding with his nine-year-old daughter, who was not injured. According to witnesses, the man began to rock his car shortly before he fell. His injuries are not life-threatening.
- Girl, 13, injured in fall from Ferris wheel (Friday, April 17, 2004) – At Joyland amusement park in Wichita, Kansas, a 13-year-old girl was seriously injured in a 25-foot fall from a Ferris wheel. The girl was riding with two of her friends. Witnesses say that the three were rocking their seat. The victim fell out, struck another seat, and fell to the ground. She sustained injuries to her right arm and leg, head and face.
- Boy, 6, injured in fall from Ferris wheel (Saturday, March 20, 2004) – At the Tamworth Show in northern New South Wales, Australia, a 6-year-old boy suffered head injuries and a punctured lung in a fall from the top of a Ferris wheel. The boy was hospitalized in critical condition. Reports indicate that the boy was riding with his father in a gondola near the top of the Ferris wheel when he fell to the ground. “The ride had stopped while people were being unloaded when the man felt his son slipping away from him … and the child fell to the ground,” a police statement said.
- Girl dies after fall from Ferris wheel (Monday, July 15, 2002) – A 15-year-old girl who suffered severe head injuries in a 30-foot-fall from a Ferris wheel at Gulliver’s World theme park in Warrington, England on Saturday has died from her injuries.
- Boy injured in fall from Ferris wheel (Monday, May 20, 2002) – A nine-year-old boy was injured in a 25-foot fall from a Ferris wheel at Wicksteed Park in Kettering, England after his safety bar somehow opened. The boy was hospitalized with minor injuries. His 14-year-old brother also fell from the ride, but managed to cling to the side of the car until he was safely brought to the ground.
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
A word within the title of the article by Degener and Good reflects my next concern: “FREAK” occurrence. This is a word that is thrown around in this industry a lot when referring to how incidents/accidents sometimes occur. Select amusement ride experts and park officials considered this a “FREAK” occurrence- a concept the boggles my mind. “FREAK” is defined as sudden and apparently causeless change or turn of events as defined by: Dictionary.com. This accident was not sudden or causeless.
The industry has been on notice concerning this type of incident/accident for years as a result of its knowledge of other publicized incidents similar to this one. They have done little to nothing to address it the known problem. As stated before, 10 similar incidents/accidents were noted over a 10 year period concerning Ferris wheels. Abiah Jones death could have been prevented with some very basic improvements gleaned from simple observations from previous incidents/accidents. Degner and Good’s article states that: “A ride is designed for the risks foreseen and that every ride is designed to consider those risks.” I could give that statement some credence concerning the original renderings of a Ferris wheel some 200 years ago; however, a basic safety analysis would reveal serious safety flaws that are backed up with evidence that patrons do fall from heights while experiencing these rides/devices – times have changed.
Good example of a problem solved; The London Eye (Ferris wheel) in England has a fully glassed in cabin. Granted, this device is much taller (close to 500 ft.), yet falls from heights usually don’t discriminate. To add fuel to the fire, Kathy Fackler, SaferParks.org, June 21, 2006 wrote:
“The Giant Wheel was designed with open cars, no restraints at all, and a maximum loft of 90 feet. Despite the significant fall hazard, the manufacturer approved the ride for use by unaccompanied children as young as four years old. As a comparison, note that a U.S. employer can’t legally send a trained adult worker 9 feet up in a cherry picker without a secure harness and tether.”
There are multiple opportunities to prevent future incidents/accidents from occurring on Giant Wheels (Ferris wheels) or any amusement ride or device. With respect to the Giant Wheel, the industry could require netting, cages, or positive restraints where the patrons are seated with zero access by the patron in order to prevent another similar injury or death. Industry recommendations were issued on June 13th, 2011 (10 days following Abiah Jones death) for all Ferris wheel operators requiring that children be at least 54 inches tall to ride without a parent or guardian, a policy Morey’s management said already was enforced on its piers, and that each gondola have at least two riders (Urgo, J., 2011-Philly.com).
Obviously, this practice does not go far enough. Over the last 100 years or so, the amusement ride and device industry has made major strides in the development and implementation of systems designed to address patron safety. Restraints, emergency shutdown systems, block sensors, anti-rollbacks, machine guards, warnings, fencing, and more have become commonplace on most amusement rides and devices. What is preventing them from addressing this obvious safety oversight? The bottom-line: there was nothing “FREAK” about this terrible and unnecessary tragedy at Morey’s Pier in New Jersey.
Read the next installment in this series: Amusement Ride Industry: It’s the Rider’s Fault
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 (Answers.com, 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