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.