Following the recent tragedy at Six Flags in Texas, amusement ride safety and industry experts today said Pennsylvania’s amusement rides and attractions are regulated by one of the top safety programs in the nation.
“The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture takes seriously its charge to protect families who enjoy the state’s amusement rides and attractions,” Agriculture Secretary George Greig said. “Pennsylvania’s amusement ride safety program has a longstanding reputation for being one of the best and safest in the nation. Our safety record speaks for itself.”
The Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Ride and Measurement Standards registers more than 9,000 amusement rides and attractions – more than any other state – at nearly 800 registered amusement operations including amusement parks, fairs, carnivals and other events.
Last year, more than 11 million people visited amusement parks and took an estimated 55 million rides on equipment at the parks.
“Pennsylvania’s amusement parks have an outstanding safety record,” said Dick Knoebel, secretary of the Pennsylvania Amusement Parks Association and president of Knoebel’s Amusement Resort in Elysburg, Northumberland County. “I ride the rides, my family rides them, and thousands of others enjoy them too. That’s why safety is our top priority.
“Each day at my park and others across the state, a team of certified inspectors carefully examines every ride before the park opens. If something doesn’t look right, the ride doesn’t open,” Knoebel added.
All rides must meet strict American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International standards. ASTM International develops safety standards with input from government officials, ride experts and consumer advocates. Pennsylvania officials help develop these standards.
Rides at fixed locations must be inspected at least every 30 days, while rides that travel as part of fairs or carnivals are inspected each time they are set up.
“Most of our members are family-owned, multi-generation businesses, and their number one priority is the safety of patrons,” Lloyd Serfass, president of the Pennsylvania Showmen’s Association said. Each year more than 5.2 million visitors attend the state’s 109 fairs and millions more attend carnivals.
“This is our reputation, our living and our life. We take our responsibility to rider safety seriously,” Serfass said.
The Pennsylvania Amusement Ride Safety Board reviews all new rides before they can operate in Pennsylvania. The nine-member advisory board includes representatives of amusement parks, carnivals, fairs, rental facilities, ride manufacturers, an engineer and consumer advocates.
“I was appointed to the board after my son was killed in Pennsylvania’s last fatal amusement ride accident in 2001,” Ken Potter Jr., Pennsylvania Amusement Ride Safety Advisory Board member said.
“The board thoroughly reviews every new ride type and modified rides to ensure they meet our tough standards, even if that means a manufacturer has to go back to the drawing board or a ride can’t open on time. Just because a ride is operating in another state doesn’t mean it will be approved in Pennsylvania.
“I have always been impressed by the level of expertise, professionalism and real life experience of the members on this board. They operate with a high level of responsibility, thinking things through as if their own children or grandchildren would be on these rides,” Potter added.
The department certifies and trains the state’s nearly 2,250 private industry inspectors. State quality assurance inspectors conduct unannounced inspections to ensure the credibility of on-site certified inspections.
Certified inspectors must attend rigorous state-approved continuing education training and be re-certified every three years.
“Pennsylvania’s certified inspectors are receiving some of the best training available in the industry,” said Phil Slaggert, who provides national amusement industry safety training. “The training used in Pennsylvania is one of the most comprehensive in the nation, covering the wide spectrum of rides in the state, and certifications earned through it have been recognized by other states.”
Pennsylvania is one of only 19 states that regulates inflatables, a few that regulates zip lines and the only state that regulates trampoline parks, Slaggert said.
Amusement operators closely track injury data for their facilities and use that data to identify potential issues to avoid future injuries. Injuries, even minor incidents, are reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to target potential problems. Last year, there were 293 reported injuries, approximately 60 of which required medical treatment.
About 70 percent of the total injuries were a result of riders not following posted instructions or safe rider guidelines.
“Pennsylvania requires the ride owners and the ride operators to be proactive, and by law accept responsibility for safety,” said David Garrett of Haas & Wilkerson Insurance in Fairway, Kan., one of the top insurers of amusement parks and carnivals in the nation.
“When we underwrite policies, our number one qualification isn’t how good the ride is. It’s how good the owner or operator is. Pennsylvania’s program works,” Garrett said.
For more information about ride safety or the Bureau of Ride and Measurement Standards, visit www.agriculture.state.pa.us and search “amusement rides.”