Carnival and fair season keeps state inspectors busy

“Fines are not the goal. Safety is.”

information provided by the Illinois Department of Labor

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (June 30, 2019) – Carnival and fair season is nearing its peak, and that means lots of work for the amusement ride safety inspectors of the Illinois Department of Labor.

Pre-empting tragedy

Beginning in 1985, largely in response to some tragic and high-profile mishaps involving amusement rides in Illinois, the state began regulating and inspecting all amusement rides and attractions that are open to the public. That includes everything from roller coasters to mobile climbing walls to bounce houses.

People are often surprised the Department of Labor oversees such a program, but Director Michael Kleinik says an important mission of the department is safety. For example, the department’s Illinois OSHA division strives to keep workers safe.

“Our amusement ride inspections role is to make sure that the public can attend these fun events knowing the rides and attractions have been properly inspected,” said Kleinik.

Five inspectors; thousands of inspections

There are five full-time amusement ride safety inspectors for the state of Illinois, said Tom Coe, chief ride inspector, who administers the program and fills in as a sixth inspector when necessary. “I always joke there are 5 1/2, counting me,” he said.

That relatively small cadre of inspectors is responsible for overseeing the approximately 630 companies who operate various rides and amusement attractions throughout Illinois. They complete between 4,500 and 5,000 equipment inspections each year.

“The problem is that the attractions are not spread out throughout the year,” said Coe. “There is a significant portion of them focused from the last week in April to the first week of July. That’s probably 75 percent of our inspections.”

And Illinois is not a small state. “We run from border to border, from east to west, north to south,” said Coe.

Even bounce houses

Besides the immense geographic area that must be covered, growth in the amusement industry also has created more work. Even the smallest festivals today seem to offer a bounce house or two for kids to enjoy. They all need to be inspected.

“The bounce houses have been an exponential increase,” said Coe. Some people may question why something seemingly as tame as a bounce house needs to be inspected. But Coe said nationwide statistics indicate bounce houses pose a significant injury rate compared to other amusement attractions.

“It’s not necessarily the equipment that causes the injuries but the operation of the attraction. Too many people using it at one time, and mixing the size of people using it,” said Coe.

Checking for inspection

Whether it’s a bounce house or the craziest ride on the midway, you should look for the permit-to-operate sticker issued by the Department of Labor to be assured the ride has been inspected.

If you determine no permit was issued or to report any accidents or unsafe conditions you observe with an amusement ride or attraction, contact the Department of Labor:

While the Department of Labor is empowered to issue fines for failure to comply with the Amusement Ride and Attraction Safety Act, fines are not the goal. Safety is. “The majority of the time, we have absolutely no problem with companies complying,” said Coe. “Our intent is to get people compliant with the law.”

Safety tips for amusement rides

  1. Read and follow all posted rules, height and age restrictions.
  2. Explain why children should not stand up, unlock or loosen restraints, or exit a ride while it is in motion.
  3. Don’t pressure friends and children into going on a ride if they are afraid.
  4. Listen to the ride operator’s instructions.
  5. Use the safety equipment provided, such as seat belts, lap bars, and shoulder harnesses.
  6. Keep hands, arms, legs, feet, and head inside the ride at all times, and hold onto provided handles.
  7. Stay seated until the ride comes to a complete stop.
  8. Look for the ride or attraction’s current permit-to-operate sticker issued by the Illinois Department of Labor.
  9. Report unsafe conditions, accidents, or rides and attractions without operating permits by calling the Illinois Department of Labor at 217-782-9347.
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