They are incredibly rare. But when an accident at an amusement park occurs, the stories are horrific.
“Death of 6 year old girl at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park under investigation” was the title of Colorado Independent Post this weekend after the girl, who was on vacation with her family in Colorado Springs, was killed during the park’s Haunted Mine Drop ride.
The fatal crash came just days after a man in Utah sued the Lagoon amusement park in Farmington, alleging devastating injuries to his foot, and less than a month after a man died in a fall from Lagoon’s Sky Ride.
The Glenwood Caverns incident is still under investigation, and according to Fox8 from Colorado, the merry-go-round was intentionally designed without shoulder straps. However, Colorado’s Division of Petroleum and Public Safety, the state agency that inspects amusement parks, has yet to determine whether this conflicts with state regulations.
And while there are federal regulations, there is no federal oversight for amusement parks.
The American Society for Testing Materials, an international organization responsible for developing a range of standards adopted across many industries, establishes guidelines for amusement parks. But the inspection and enforcement of these standards is left to the states.
Some states have regulatory bodies specifically for the inspection of amusement rides. In other states, the responsibility is transferred to public security services, fire marshals or even the ministry of agriculture, as is the case in Pennsylvania.
Some states, such as Utah, do not exercise any surveillance.
But it will soon be the case. Passed in 2019, HB381 designated Utah Amusement Ride Safety Committee, which reports to the Utah Department of Transportation. Still in its infancy, the committee is currently establishing minimum qualifications for stationary amusement parks and rides that you might find at the Utah State Fair. For the most part, the qualifications are what insurance companies, fire departments, and the American Society for Testing Materials are already looking for.
The committee will not formally inspect the rides until April 2023. The Passenger Cable Car Safety Committee, also under the auspices of UDOT, inspects chairlifts, such as those at most ski resorts or the Lagoon’s Sky Ride . The health service inspects water bodies and places to eat. And local fire departments perform fire inspections on all buildings.
But when it comes to regulating rides, the onus is on the park itself.
“The validity of an amusement park is its safety,” said Adam Leishman, spokesperson for Lagoon. “It is in the best interest of the owner-operator to operate as safely as possible, otherwise the fleet simply will not operate. “
Each of Lagoon’s 55 rides is inspected three times a day, and the wooden roller coaster undergoes a fourth by a carpentry crew, Leishman said.
“We have our own engineering department, this is the start of the inspection,” he said. “From that point on, it goes to the operations department, which would be in charge of the rides. Each amusement ride operator then performs a third final inspection each day.
Lagoon also engages national inspectors for an annual third party inspection.
Leishman says the inspection process speaks for itself. In August, a man died after falling from the Lagoon Sky Ride, and according to a police statement, the ride does not appear to have malfunctioned. The last fatal accident at Utah Park was in the late 1980s, Leishman said.
Lagoon is currently being pursued by a Salt Lake County man who alleges that a park worker failed to properly secure his knees and legs before riding the Wicked roller coaster. Matthew Christensen, who is paraplegic, says the error led to his foot being “shredded.” Leishman says Lagoon is not aware of any litigation and the company has yet to receive legal documents.
“It’s an industry that has a pretty good track record,” said Jesse Sweeten, director of the Utah Amusement Ride Safety Committee. also.”
In 2019, 1,299 park visitors were injured across the country, according to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. About 6%, or 78, of these cases resulted in hospitalization for more than 24 hours.
Considering the 19 best amusement parks in the country saw 155.4 million visitors that same year – Florida alone had 88.9 million – the chances of being involved in any of these crashes are slim – 0.0008%, to be exact.
And the risk of spending more than a day in the hospital? 0.00005%.
These statistics should not invalidate tragedies like what happened in Colorado this weekend. But the shocking – and often horrific – nature of these accidents is attracting media attention.
“I think when people go to an amusement park, they know there is a risk, but at the same time you are going to have fun, you don’t expect something bad like this- ci to happen, ”said Sweeten. “It’s the same with a shark attack, it would get a lot of media attention because it doesn’t happen that often.”
The regulatory council is currently made up of representatives from Lagoon, a ski resort (The Park City Alpine Slide will be inspected by the committee), the Utah State Fair, an amusement park operator, an expert nationally recognized and representative of the public, someone who Sweeten says “pursues the interests of the state.”
Once the Utah Amusement Ride Safety Committee can send inspectors to the field, they will look for items like rusted bolts, pinning hardware, faulty retainers, or loose parts. They will observe the path working through a cycle, sometimes more. And they’ll look at the documents that prove the proper maintenance is being performed.
It’s a process that mirrors what Lagoon and State Fair inspectors are already doing. The one that Sweeten, someone who loves roller coasters, trusts.
“I don’t continue as much as when I was younger,” he said. “We have been to several large parks as well as to Lagoon. It is something that we appreciate.