Quiz: Are you an “expert” amusement ride operator?

Amusement ride operations and safety quiz

Are you an “expert” amusement ride operator? Test your knowledge regarding important amusement industry concepts that separate experts from novices.

Event, Tourism and Attraction Signage… What is the Message?

Safety signs sending wrong message

First and foremost, let’s start with the basics. What is a sign? A sign is something that suggests the presence of a fact, condition, or quality not immediately evident; an indication an action or gesture used to convey an idea, desire, information, or command. Additionally, it can be a board or placard displayed in a place to advertise or convey information or direction, or a conventional figure or device that stands for a word, phrase or operation. I think we now have a firm understanding… like we didn’t before!

To some extent, signs are everywhere. They inform us, they sell to us, they provide directions and warn us of potential or real dangers. Signs can be broken down into numerous categories, for the sake of this blog I will limit it to 5: informative (this tree is a “xyz type”), directional (“Enter Here,” “Exit Only”), way-finding (“Fantasyland,” “Park/Event Exit”), instructional (“No Smoking Please,” “Do Not Feed the Animals”), and warnings (innocuous, “You may get wet” to life and death warnings, “High Voltage”).

Event, tourism, and attraction (ETA) environments are no different than any other environment when it comes to the use and needs of signage. ETA environments are saturated with signs and other visual forms of communications. It could be argued that such an abundance of signs in these environments results in the signs being ignored, becoming visual background noise. However, when done correctly, the constant instruction provided through signage can produce an environment that reflects specific rules and associations that in turn promotes more predictable behaviors.

Considering the nature of ETA environments (often temporary) and the relationship with invitees (patrons) on controlled premises, the goal of an ETA’s planner should be to develop sign packages that properly inform, direct, instruct and warn patrons regarding the intended use of the external and internal environment and available experiences offered. ETA organizers and planners typically have the basics down: food and beverage locations, restrooms, parking, cash machines, VIP areas, and way-finding. However, many of the critical signs often get overlooked.

Unfortunately, the most often overlooked or underdeveloped sign is a warning sign—also the most critical. Many confuse a “warning” sign with that of an instructional/informational sign. There is a significant difference between warnings and instructional/informational signs. A warning is an intimation, threat, or sign of impending danger or evil; advice to beware, as of a person or thing. We should use warnings to advise patrons and staff of harm and the intended consequences of said harm. This practice is often only achieved after an incident due to failed or inadequate policies/procedures to identify and/or eliminate/mitigate known and foreseeable hazards.

There is good news though! There is a science to developing and implementing signage—one that the ETA industry can easily follow and implement. Standards exist within industry that address the formats, colors, and symbols for safety signs used in environmental and facility applications, product applications, and accident prevention tags/tape. ANSI Z535 is a primary example of a standards writing body that develops such practices. It is important to note warning signs are the last resort of consumer safety and should only be used when engineering practices cannot remove the hazards associated with the experiences or conditions. If it has been determined that engineering the hazard out is not possible, then develop proper educational measures and enforcement tactics to prevent incidents. The use of established warning methods is a great place to start.

Near Miss NOT Enough to Save Scare Actor… Another Halloween Themed Event Claims a Life

Corn maze safety planning

It goes without saying the popularity of Halloween. Halloween has been a growing source of revenue for numerous industries for several decades, an 8+ billion a year industry. This once happy-go-lucky kid-centric holiday has been hijacked by teenagers and adults seeking extreme experiences and encounters. Anyone with a T.V. can attest to the fact that pushing the envelope of fear seems to be the new norm… Halloween or not! Enthusiasts and savvy corporations alike have done an excellent job of capitalizing on the public’s desire for Halloween attractions and events that provide freighting and sometimes immersive experiences.

As with anything in the attraction and entertainment world, owners and operators are always thinking of new ways to attract larger and more bountiful audiences. Who can blame them, the attraction and entertainment options seem limitless, and as a result, it is difficult to appeal to patrons and ultimately get them to part with their hard earned dollars. This, in some instances, has caused owners and operators to push the limits and reach beyond their capabilities and knowledge base.

Case-in-point… on October 15, 2014 a young man by the name of Jeremy McSpadden Jr. was killed on the job while working as a scare actor at the Incredible Corn Maze near Hauser Lake, Idaho. Jeremy was one of many paid to portray horror-show creatures. While in character, Jeremey was walking next to the bus, lost his footing and slipped under a rear wheel. The hook for this particular event, patrons were provided paintball guns and encouraged to shoot at the scare actors from a converted school bus rolling through a cornfield—an interactive corn maze / zombie apocalypse shooting experience.

The popularity of corn mazes have been on the rise since the early to mid-1990’s. Today, there are hundreds of farms operating mazes as attractions. Originally, mazes were intended to be standalone attractions used for guests to meander through at their leisure. Some, mazes have become known for their artistic value as well. Regardless, this popular form of recreation is a way for farmers to earn additional income during the fall season.

Unfortunately, incidents of a similar nature have occurred over the last several years. In fact, the day prior to Jeremy’s death, a co-worker tripped and fell under the bus, running over him—suffering no injuries. Jeremy’s boss was scheduled to address the issue but had gotten off work late and did not have the opportunity to correct the situation. Jeremy’s boss stated in an interview that Jeremy simply did not have time to react before the bus ran over his head.

To focus, this blog is not anti-corn mazes, Halloween experiences, farmers or overzealous corporations… it is intended to shed light on the continuing problem of inexperienced event planners and producers subjecting patrons and staff to known and foreseeable hazards while experiencing events. There are numerous readily available examples regarding how to effectively develop and operate a Halloween experience—or simply developing an event. Consultants, standards, common practices, previous incidents, trade groups and more address and shed light on the proper way to protect your staff and patrons when developing and event. With proper design, education, and enforcement, a well-planned and innovative event can be equally exhilarating, immersive and safe.

Simply google: Corn Maze Safety, Halloween Safety, Scare Actor Safety, Event Safety and you will find limitless materials on planning a safe event. No more excuses! If you don’t know, ASK!

Hayride Safety… Planning a Successful Event

Hay ride safety planning

Fall is a great time of year for the events industry. The weather cools, kids are back in school, parents are settled into a routine, and the holidays are fast approaching. Event planners and organizers capitalize on the autumn air and the eager community by providing attractions and experiences at art shows, festivals, pumpkin patches, and more.

During this time of year, one of the fastest growing and most sought after events by patrons is the “farm experience.” Many farms are taking advantage of the appeal of a rural setting during the fall and providing patrons with numerous entertainment options. Those options can include: pumpkin patches, hayrides, corn mazes, bounces houses, pumpkin- apple-chuckers, playgrounds, petting zoos, haunted attractions, and various other amusement rides and devices. On the surface, most of these attractions and experiences would seem safe. However, each has varying levels of risk and each needs to be addressed accordingly.

Over the next several weeks I will address the safety concerns of the offerings independently—due to the unique nature of each. I am going to start, however, with hayrides due to a recent incident that occurred on 10/11/14, in Mechanic Falls, Maine. A 17-year-old young woman died and 22 others were injured while experiencing the Gauntlet Haunted Night Ride (hayride) at Harvest Hill Farms on. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has estimated that the number of serious injuries of hayrides and other amusement rides has risen dramatically. This makes sense, considering the escalation in the number of providers and patron experiences. I am privy as well to several incidents and resulting deaths/injuries due to the nature of my work.

Hayrides are an amusement device? According to ASTM F-24 on Amusement Rides and Devices, an amusement device by definition is: A device or combination of devices or elements that carry, convey, or direct a person(s) over or through a fixed or restricted course or within a defined area, for the primary purpose of amusement or entertainment. Although ASTM clearly identifies through definition that a hay ride is an amusement device, it does not cover or discuss them within the provided standards though (UPDATE: ASTM WK50036 is currently working on a guide for the Operation of Hayride Attractions). This does not mean there are no standards or accepted practices within the industry—quite the contrary. There are numerous publications, guidelines, rules, state laws, etc. that address how to properly develop, maintain and operate a hayride safely.

The key is seeking these guides, recommendations and practices—standards, and applying them to your event or venue. As event planners and operators there are numerous relied upon processes and frameworks for developing a safe and secure event. Through the identification and use of these internationally acknowledged frameworks, experienced event planners and organizers would know the process to develop and/or secure quality processes and/or vendors in order to provide safe attractions and experiences for patrons. When inviting patrons to experience events on typically non-purpose built premises is it imperative that proper planning and research go into the equation. Hayrides and the routes they take are no different.

When developing a hayride amusement experience you should consider the following: Route inspection and maintenance (this is an ongoing process—potholes, tree limbs, embankments), tractor and equipment (hay bales secure, trailer size/capacity, hitch hook-up, towing capacity, braking ability, traction), training and communication (ground crew, drivers, gate staff, spotters, radios, hand signals, signage, lighting), loading and unloading (queue line, barricades, fencing, waiting areas, steps/ladders, surface, staff), and tractor operation (supervision, rules, additional vehicles, routes). This by no means is a complete list, however, it should be an indicator to farm/event operators of the need to research and develop policies and procedures that address the safe operation of a hayride attraction. There is a formalized process for doing so, they just need to take the time to learn about and carry it out.

More often than we care to believe, within the events and attractions industry, patrons are subjected to known and foreseeable risks due to inexperienced event planners and operators seeking to take advantage of windows of opportunity. Some within the farm industry use these events to remain economically viable. Regardless of the reasons, when planning an event and inviting patrons to experience attractions, the planner/organizer needs to invest some time and money in providing a safe and fun experience for all. The identification and use of established policies and procedures for hayrides can eliminate and/or mitigate most known hazards associated with them.

Inflatable Amusement Device Safety

Inflatable bounce house safety

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.


  • 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
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