2009-08-06 / Local & State

Who's Inspecting Amusement Park Inspectors?

By Tony Di Domizio

LANSDALE, Pa. (AP) - Summer's the perfect season for amusement parks, carnivals and fairs. But when hitting area carnivals, boardwalk amusements or places like Dorney Park, Hersheypark, Kennywood, Knoebels or Sesame Place, there's one thing to keep in mind.

Rider be aware.

In Pennsylvania, there is a law that states you must listen to ride operators, or they can evict you from the attraction.

"What we push in the state is `Listen to the operator,''' said John Dillabaugh, director of the Bureau of Rides and Measurement Standards of the Amusement Rides Division of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. "They know the rides and they are expected to be vigilant in making sure the ride operates correctly, and making sure the riders are riding correctly.''

"The bottom line is the operator of the ride is not only responsible, but is authorized to make sure riders are safe and participate in activities in a wellmannered way so there's no liability or reduced liability,'' Dillabaugh said.

Riders must also comply with height and weight restrictions, plus warning and conduct signs.

"Observe the ride for yourself,'' Dillabaugh said. "Know your limitations, and your children's limitations. Watch the operators. Are they attentive to your needs?''

In Pennsylvania, the law requires inspection of carnival rides whenever they are put up on site, and an inspection report must be submitted to the state. Any amusement attractions must be registered with the state.

"We have close to 1,500 certified amusement ride safety inspectors, a majority of them are affiliated with shows that are organizations that have rides,'' Dillabaugh said. "One advantage to that is they know the rides the best, they deal with them on a daily basis and they know when something is askew.''

The law states that a certified inspection must be done at the beginning of the season for all amusement attractions, traveling carnivals or parks. Amusement parks in the state do an inspection every 30 days after that.

Carnivals and fairs do a formal inspection every time a ride is put up and every time a ride is taken down at each location.

A carnival or fair falls under rules that apply to its designation as a "mobile site.'' Amusement parks are known as "fixed site.''

"A good carnival owner never has a problem with another set of eyes taking a look at the rides and operation,'' said Bob Johnson, president of the Outdoor Amusement Business Association, which deals exclusively with rides at carnivals, fairs and other temporary attractions.

Traveling shows like carnivals and fairs must send an itinerary to the state 15 days in advance of opening at a location.

"They may do an inspection four to six times a month,'' Dillabaugh said.

Inspections look at operating systems, mechanical systems, emergency brake systems and anti-rollback systems. They can also call for a review of maintenance records and operator training records.

"Every ride is different,'' he said. "For roller coasters, they look at metal stress, cracks in the track, make sure bolts are secure and tight. They may do daily walking of the tracks for coasters.''

Dorney Park near Allentown, he said, has a specialized inspection cart that goes on the track. Hersheypark uses a crane system, he said.

Johnson said Pennsylvania runs several training programs for inspectors.

Dillabaugh said riders should always look for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania registration plate and public notice sign, stating the ride is inspected by the Pennsylvania Ride Safety Act. Every attraction, every park and every carnival in the system must have that sign and the individual plates.

"When in doubt, ask the operator,'' he said.

New Jersey also has certificates of operation posted on rides.

The reason for registration requirements? Liability insurance, which Dillabaugh said every company takes seriously.

"Dorney Park, Sesame Place, they are out there checking every single ride to the same level, if not greater. They may do extra tests on rides to make sure they are operating well,'' he said.

Johnson said ride operators in most states must have upward of $1 million in liability insurance.

"The onus is on the owner and operator of the ride,'' Johnson said. "He or she has the most at stake.''

Ultimately, the ride manufacturer must tell the park and owner what needs to be inspected and maintained, and the frequency of inspection and maintenance.

"The manufacturer must provide manuals and inspection frequency and what we are looking for in inspections, to make sure we are up to standards,'' Dillabaugh said.

So, where is the check and balance with the manufacturer to make sure what they say to inspect is accurate?

Manufacturers are held to standards of ASTM International, originally known as the American Society for Testing and Materials, which is headquartered in West Conshohocken, Pa., about 10 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

Tom Rebbie is president and chief executive of Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters Inc., which manufactures roller coaster cars and parts in Hatfield, about 20 miles north of Philadelphia. He said each company teaches amusement operators about the rides that company manufactures.

"Two to four times a year, there are different seminars around the country where we bring in maintenance people and park owners and have classes we teach,'' he said. "We talk about what to look for, the latest updates, and what's going on with ASTM. Anything in the amusement industry.''

Regulations, he said, came about after state officials asked manufacturers for guidance, including what knowledge was needed to safeguard rides.

"My standards are higher than ASTM. We have inspection criteria for certain parts, what we want done to them and when,'' Rebbie said. "The manufacturer has got to be above everything else. We set the standard. We set the bar for ourselves high. It's not the fox guarding the hen house anymore.''

Return to top