Wisconsin Department of Commerce Newsletter
June 2005
Summer Festival Season Means Safety

Commerce's occupational safety section is charged with a number of programs including occupational safety, fire department safety and health, and amusement ride safety, among others. The occupational safety section enforces by inspection the rules of health, safety, and welfare outside of Wisconsin's built environment.

Under the administrative rules of COMM 34, the amusement ride safety section performs annual inspections on amusement rides in the state. Amusement ride staff inspects both traveling and permanent ride sites. Traveling state-based as well as out-of-state amusement show rides are inspected annually - some more than annually. Examples of these shows include the State Fair, Summerfest, and local weekend venues. After a long quiet winter, permanent sites are inspected as well. Go-kart tracks around the state and the amusement park at Bay Beach in Green Bay are examples of permanent venues.

Last year Commerce compiled impressive statistics during the festival and amusement season. The rewards of this proactive approach continue to result in a safer summer festival season for all citizens and visitors in Wisconsin. In the year 2000, of 694 inspections conducted 793 violations were found. In 2001, 574 inspections resulted in 629 violations. In 2002, 480 violations were found following 820 inspections. In 2003, of the 586 rides inspected 318 violations were found.

While we look forward to another safe amusement ride and festival season, the inspection staff would like to share the following tips that you should follow while enjoying the summer with your family and friends.

Do your own inspection. Before getting on any rides take a look around and size up the place. Is it clean and well maintained? A poorly maintained ride lot could indicate inattention to the rides. Do the ride operators seem professional and competent? Are they paying more attention to the ride they're operating or to the people walking by?

Watch the rides in operation. Rides should look and sound like they're in top condition and run smoothly every time. Look out for rust, cracks, and out of the ordinary repairs. The more you know about how the ride should operate, the better. A little sway in a wooden roller coaster framework is not only expected, it's built in. The same sway in a steel track could be trouble.

Check your own restraints. Buckle any seatbelt, make sure your lap bar or over-the-shoulder restraint locks down, visually inspect pins and door latches. If you find a problem that the ride operator missed, speak up-- so it can be fixed before you ride.

Keep your hands and arms inside the car at all times. We hear the warnings so many times we no longer pay any attention, they become like so much background noise along with the rumble of the wheels and screams of delighted riders. Take the time to listen to all warnings and instructions -- and follow them. Stay seated, and keep all body parts you want to keep inside ride vehicles and away from tracks and machinery.

You must be this tall. Don't argue with the ride operator because your child is too short to ride - the ride operator didn't set the height limit but he or she must follow it. Restrictions are based on the size and position of the ride's restraint system, not some sort of anti-child discrimination. It's better for your child to not ride and be disappointed than to slip from the ride and suffer an injury that could last a lifetime -- or end it.

Respect posted ride restrictions. Some rides restrict pregnant women and persons with back problems, heart conditions, etc. These are usually rides that involve sharp, sudden movements or a great deal of shaking about and may be quite a workout even for the perfectly healthy. Don't assume that the park is exaggerating the danger; there are a few tragic cases of children with known heart problems collapsing after riding attractions that have served millions of satisfied healthy riders safely. There is no way a ride operator can check for such hidden problems. If you know of a reason why you or your child shouldn't ride, don't ride.

Don't stand up on roller coasters or other rides. Those signs at the top of the lift hill are there for a reason -- standing on a sit-down coaster puts your center of gravity much too high, and the same forces that ordinarily keep you in your seat now work to throw you out of the train. Say the inspectors, "Too many people have died this way already, don't push your luck."

Don't rock the boat, or the log or the vehicle or the seat of any ride. Let the ride provide the motion -- attempts to jazz up a ride by rocking or swinging can cause the ride to jam or shut down, and you could get hurt in the process. Tramway-type cars are subject to having their cable slip the guides, in which case you'll be stuck up there, or having the car slip the cable, in which case you'll be hitting the ground very suddenly. Even the usually safe Ferris wheel can become deadly if the seat is rocked high enough to spill its passengers. If you absolutely have to have an effect on your ride, try a ride that is designed to shake you up.

Report problems. If you notice an unsafe condition or see someone doing something foolish, notify a ride operator or guest services. After all, they can't fix what they may not know about. It's better to feel embarrassed over a misunderstanding than feel guilty because an accident was about to happen and you failed to stop it.

Remember these tips when enjoying your summer around Wisconsin. For more information regarding amusement ride safety please contact David Vriezen at 608-261-2503.

-- David Vriezen and Henry Kosarzycki

The newsletter is issued electronically every other month.

Please send comments or questions to Barbro McGinn, editor.

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