Amusement rides: the seven deadly sins

6 October 2017

Following a number of recent high profile accidents, the issue of health and safety in the themed entertainment industry continues to be under close scrutiny. Indeed, there is recognition that work remains to be done to satisfy the high health and safety standards that the public clearly expects.  Unfortunately, there are some common, but avoidable, mistakes that are often made when constructing and operating rides:

1. Not appointing a qualified ride inspector:
As complex engineering structures, rides are subject to rigorous inspection and testing. Registered inspectors certify whether a ride is safe to use by members of the public. Any inspections are to be carried out according to local requirements. In the UK, this essentially means by those registered under the Amusement Devices Inspection Procedure Scheme (ADIPS) or under the PIPA scheme for inflatables.

Unfortunately there are a number of inspectors still operating who are not properly registered and whose credentials are not supported by an independent body. To highlight the risk of using unaccredited inspectors: in May 2009 one such inspector pleaded guilty to charges of breaching section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act (see below) after the Health and Safety Executive discovered that he had passed faulty equipment. Ride inspectors must be properly qualified to carry out such an important health and safety function and employers must check those credentials to ensure that they are.

2. Not carrying out a factory test:
The safety critical aspects of a ride’s design are subject to an early independent review to assess whether the ride is being manufactured in accordance with the specification, with further inspections then being carried out to check conformity. A factory test is an invaluable way to assess whether a ride is being properly manufactured. Indeed, carrying out a factory test may actually save cost and time in the long term by identifying problems at an earlier stage that might otherwise not be detected until later in the process.

3. Not carrying out a quantitative risk assessment:
Modern rides are becoming dependent on computer-based technology, with control systems allowing rides to perform increasingly complex functions at very high speeds. Passenger safety can depend on the correct operation of control systems and their failure could compromise safety. To improve matters a November 2016 study, with input from industry representatives, highlighted the benefit of applying quantitative risk assessment techniques to the ride construction process. Although not compulsory, the use of quantitative risk assessments is fast becoming established as industry best practice.

4. Not complying with health and safety legislation:
The construction of rides must comply with applicable health and safety legislation. For example, section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 imposes duties on both employers and the self-employed to persons other than their employees to conduct their undertaking in such a way that those who may be affected are not exposed to health and safety risks.

In addition, the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 apply to specified construction activities and place duties on clients, designers and those involved in construction work. Although the CDM Regulations may not apply to the installation of rides intended to be permanently installed, they may apply to construction work that accompanies the installation or dismantling works or to other construction work within a theme park, such as the construction of offices or cafés.

5. Not performing an annual ride inspection:
Rides must be checked at least once a year to ensure they are safe for carrying members of the public. Indeed, they are pieces of work equipment and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 require all work equipment to be regularly inspected. Operators must book the ride inspector in good time and make sure that testing takes place without any gaps in the timescales. Rides should not be operated unless they have undergone proper, regular testing by a competent person.

6. Not carrying out regular ride maintenance:
Rides degrade over time. It is important that they are checked regularly and that any routine or extraordinary maintenance is promptly carried out. Repairs should only be performed by a competent person. Where a safety feature is affected, the repair must be reviewed by a competent design reviewer. Routine maintenance procedures should be set out in the operation and maintenance manual.

7. Not issuing or following a training manual:
It is not sufficient for manufacturers only to issue operation and maintenance manuals. Rather, operators must be given proper training by the ride manufacturer, including on how to unload, build up, strip down and reload the ride. This may require further training in working at height, manual handling and electrical safety. Operators must be advised on which parts to check and how to check them as part of a round of daily safety inspections. Training must be given on what steps are to be taken if and when a problem is found. Operators should also be trained to know who should and should not be allowed to ride, what to do in case of emergency and whom to contact for help. A detailed record of all training given and received should be kept for future reference.

Notwithstanding recent events, fairgrounds and amusement parks have continually been shown to be relatively safe compared to other activities such as riding a bicycle or driving a car. Indeed, they remain some of the safest leisure activities.  Although it is never possible to eliminate risks entirely, risks can be effectively managed.  Avoiding the common mistakes referred to above and taking proper legal advice when appropriate will assist parties to properly manage risks in a safe and acceptable way.