With the fall fairs on the horizon, some are giving a second thought to braving the rides in light of Wednesday's ride accident at the Ohio State Fair, which left one dead and seven injured.
So, what do you need to know before you go?
State Fair manager Gary Goodman says the South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (LLR) oversees amusement rides and inspects fair rides before the opening of each State Fair.
In fact, South Carolina law requires an annual inspection of all amusement rides before they may operate in the state, according to Lesia Shannon Kudelka with LLR.
Kudelka says rides are inspected by a Special Inspector, licensed by LLR and certified by the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials (NAARSO). In addition, LLR auditors (who are also certified by NAARSO) conduct random audits of the Special Inspectors’ ride inspections to ensure defects and non-compliant items are identified and corrected by the ride owner.
Kudelka says LLR will not issue a permit authorizing operation of an amusement ride until all violations identified are corrected. In 2016, there were 647 amusement rides permitted for operation in South Carolina by LLR.
The South Carolina State Fair also contracts with third-party inspectors to independently certify the rides before opening and conducts daily inspections throughout the fair, according to Goodman.
“We think it’s very important that we go beyond the inspections required by the state,” Goodman said. “It’s something that we take very seriously.”
The Fire Ball ride at the Ohio State Fair had been inspected three to four times over the last few day, including inspections by a “third party inspector,” according to Michael Vartorella, chief ride inspector with the Ohio Department of Agriculture. In fact, four rides never opened at the Ohio State Fair because they did not pass inspection.
The Fire Ball ride involved in the accident at the Ohio State Fair on Wednesday did not belong to North American Midway Entertainment, which has operated the rides at the South Carolina State Fair without a serious incident, according the SC State Fair.
Goodman says the South Carolina State Fair features nearly 70 North American Midway Entertainment rides. The carnival contracted with Amusements of America to bring in several additional kiddie rides to last year’s fair, but those rides were subject to the same stringent inspection requirements, according to Goodman.
The State Fair announced last year that it had extended its partnership with North American Midway Entertainment for three years. “We’ve had a great association with them for a long time,” Goodman said.
According to LLR, Amusements of America, based in Tennent, New Jersey, applied for permits for 21 rides to be operated at the Florence Civic Center from April 6, 2017 to April 9, 2017. A Special Inspector conducted inspections of the 21 rides, and 20 of the rides passed inspection, including the Fire Ball, manufactured by KMG of The Netherlands. One ride failed inspection, a children’s ride called the Rockin’ Tug, and it did not receive a permit for operation at the Florence event. An LLR auditor also performed audits of 10 of the Special Inspector’s inspections, including the Fire Ball. All of the rides audited by the LLR auditor passed the audit.
Strates Shows, based in Orlando, Florida, also owns a ride called the Fire Ball, manufactured by KMG. Strates’ Fire Ball ride was inspected at Myrtle Beach Speedway by a Special Inspector on April 6, 2017 and passed inspection. The ride inspection was audited by an LLR auditor the same day and passed the audit.
In the end, Ohio Governor John Kasich's words at a media briefing Wednesday ring true. "Anytime you go to an amusement park, you know there's an element of risk connected to it," he said.
In one exchange with a reporter who asked if the Governor if he would urge attendees to get on the rides, Kasich turned the question around to make a point. "Well, let me ask you. Would you go a ride," asked Kasich. The reporter said he would if they could guarantee his safety. Remarking that no one but God can 100% guarantee safety, Kasich said told the reporter that he had his answer -- for him, based on what risk he is willing to accept.
As a consumer, you have to decide how much risk you're willing to take. The good news? There are things you can do to inform your decision-making and lower your risk once you are at a fair.
- Take a look at the South Carolina Amusement Ride Code and related regulations on LLR's website.
- You can also use LLR's Amusement Ride License Lookup to check to see which rides have been inspected, the date of the inspection, and the result of the inspection.
- Do your research and ask questions. Event hosts and ride operators should be comfortable receiving questions and providing you with safety inspection information and records of safety.
There are things you can do to lower your risk of accident when you are at the fair, too. LLR's Office of Elevators and Amusement Rides recommend the following:
- Use safety equipment, such as seat belts, shoulder harnesses, lap bars and chains when provided.
- Stay seated until rides come to a complete stop.
- Always read and follow all posted and oral instructions given to you, especially if you have medical conditions or are pregnant.
- Always wait for the attendant to help you off the rides.
- If you notice a ride attendant not paying attention to the ride, they probably aren't, and you should bring it to the attention of a supervisor.
- Look for the posted State of South Carolina Amusement Device Permit.
- Look where you are going; most accidents at the fair are trips and falls.
- Observe age, height and weight restrictions. Requirements may be different for each ride.
- Keep hands, arms and legs inside the ride at all times.
- Make sure children wear closed-toed walking shoes, and clothing and hairstyles that won't catch in ride machinery.
- Encourage children to make thoughtful decisions about which rides to try. Suggest that they watch the ride and check out riders getting off the ride. Do they look happy? Scared? Dizzy? Bored?
- If your child is going off with a group of children, talk about what a child should do if another misbehaves on a ride or starts pressuring anyone to go on a ride.
- Talk to your child about what to do if they get frightened while the ride is moving. Tell them to call out to the ride operator in a loud voice. Reiterate that they must not get out of the ride until it comes to a complete stop.
- Call LLR's Amusement Ride office at (803) 896-7630 to report what you think is an unsafe condition or to make a complaint.
"Look, everyone has to use their judgment. No one can guarantee anything," he said. While officials have inspected and re-inspected, "it's a decision we all make, just like when we go skiing and we get on a ski lift, or when get on an airplane and we fly. Accidents do happen," said Kasich.
With respect to the South Carolina State Fair, Goodman says, “The safety of our fair patrons has remained a priority, and we will continue to take every step necessary to ensure the well-being of our visitors.”
The 2017 S.C. State Fair runs from Oct. 11-22 in Columbia.