Amusement parks linked to thousands of injuries in 2016, safety commission estimates

Published 6:40 PM EDT, Fri July 28, 2017
Authorities stand near the Fire Ball amusement ride after the ride malfunctioned injuring several at the Ohio State Fair, Wednesday, July 26, 2017, in Columbus, Ohio. Some of the victims were thrown from the ride when it malfunctioned Wednesday night, said Columbus Battalion Chief Steve Martin. (Jim Woods/The Columbus Dispatch via AP)
Jim Woods/The Columbus Dispatch/AP
Authorities stand near the Fire Ball amusement ride after the ride malfunctioned injuring several at the Ohio State Fair, Wednesday, July 26, 2017, in Columbus, Ohio. Some of the victims were thrown from the ride when it malfunctioned Wednesday night, said Columbus Battalion Chief Steve Martin. (Jim Woods/The Columbus Dispatch via AP)
Now playing
01:03
One dead in ride malfunction at Ohio State Fair
Fox News/Twitter
Now playing
01:33
ADL wants Fox News to fire Tucker Carlson over racist comments
CNN
Now playing
02:36
The truth behind Covid-19 vaccines for sale on the dark web
Now playing
04:22
Levi's CEO has message for Mitch McConnell
Now playing
01:54
'You think I'm racist': Former Fox News host storms off camera
Korie Robertson and Willie Robertson of the reality series "Duck Dynasty" attend the Capitol File 58th Presidential Inauguration Reception at Fiola Mare on January 19, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Paul Morigi/Getty Images
Korie Robertson and Willie Robertson of the reality series "Duck Dynasty" attend the Capitol File 58th Presidential Inauguration Reception at Fiola Mare on January 19, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Now playing
01:46
'Duck Dynasty' stars discuss raising biracial son on new show
FOX/"The Masked Singer"
Now playing
01:24
Nick Cannon makes big splash in 'Masked Singer' return
The Drew Barrymore Show/YouTube
Now playing
01:26
'Mom' star speaks out about not having kids in real life
Heinz ketchup packets are shown in New York on Monday, August 22, 2005. H.J. Heinz Co., the world's biggest ketchup maker, said first-quarter profit fell 19 percent on expenses to cut jobs and sell businesses.  (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Heinz ketchup packets are shown in New York on Monday, August 22, 2005. H.J. Heinz Co., the world's biggest ketchup maker, said first-quarter profit fell 19 percent on expenses to cut jobs and sell businesses. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Now playing
01:53
Restaurants face a nationwide ketchup packet shortage
Camerota Berman both
CNN
Camerota Berman both
Now playing
02:33
CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota gets surprise tribute from co-anchor
Citigroup Chairman Richard Parsons delivers remarks on the US economy at the New York State Bar Association meetings in New York, January 28, 2009. Troubled US banking giant Citigroup last week named Parsons as its new chairman, the longtime top executive at media giant Time Warner, to steer it through its most challenging period.  AFP PHOTO / Emmanuel Dunand (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images)
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/AFP via Getty Images
Citigroup Chairman Richard Parsons delivers remarks on the US economy at the New York State Bar Association meetings in New York, January 28, 2009. Troubled US banking giant Citigroup last week named Parsons as its new chairman, the longtime top executive at media giant Time Warner, to steer it through its most challenging period. AFP PHOTO / Emmanuel Dunand (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images)
Now playing
02:47
Dick Parsons: Georgia law is a bald-faced attempt to suppress Black vote
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture
Now playing
02:54
'Godzilla vs. Kong' is a pandemic box office hit
Now playing
01:30
5 ways to cut your plastic waste
CNN/Getty Images
Now playing
04:40
Stelter: After elevating Gaetz, Fox News barely covering scandal
NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona
Now playing
01:08
See NASA spacecraft successfully land on an asteroid
Now playing
06:51
Alisyn Camerota's kids wish her good luck in new role on CNN

Story highlights

On Wednesday, one person died and seven people were injured at the Ohio State Fair

Both fixed-site and mobile amusement parks lack consistent regulation and safety data

(CNN) —  

Emergency rooms saw an estimated 30,000 injuries linked to amusement parks in 2016, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. But experts warn that data about amusement park safety is limited, and regulations are inconsistent.

This week, one person was killed and seven more were injured after a ride malfunctioned at the Ohio State Fair in Columbus. On Wednesday, the opening day of the fair, a piece of the Fire Ball ride broke apart mid-air. All seven people injured were taken to area hospitals for treatment.

In 2016, a 10-year-old boy was killed on a water slide in Kansas. Three girls were also injured in 2016 at a fair in Tennessee after falling from a Ferris wheel.

A man died in Ohio in 2015 after jumping over a fence in a restricted area and being struck by a roller coaster. A similar incident happened at a Georgia Six Flags park in 2008. And in 2007, a teenager lost both of her feet after a ride malfunction at a Kentucky Six Flags park.

Lack of data on park injuries and deaths

In a statement sent to CNN, the International Association for Amusement Parks said that while approximately 335 million people visit amusement parks in the United States each year, the likelihood of sustaining a serious injury at an amusement park that would lead to an overnight stay at a hospital is one in 16 million.

The amusement park association conducts an annual safety survey, the most recent of which was published in 2016. Of the parks from which the association collected data, it estimated that in 2015 there were 1,508 ride-related injuries among park attendees who went on rides. That’s an increase of 32% since 2014, when there were 1,146 ride-related injuries. No data on fatalities were reported.

However, the International Association for Amusement Parks only collects safety data on fixed-site amusement parks – locations where the rides are permanent fixtures – and not on amusement parks that move from location to location. Those mobile amusement parks include carnival and state fairs, such as the one in Ohio.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission told CNN it estimates that in 2016, emergency room departments saw 30,900 injuries associated with amusement attractions, including rides, for both mobile and fixed-site parks. This number is an estimate extrapolated from emergency room data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System and is not an exact count.

The commission said it is aware of 22 deaths since 2010 associated with amusement attractions, including the fatality this week at the Ohio State Fair. This number excludes fatalities at water parks or water slides.

Tracy Mehan, translational research manager at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio, believes a coordinated federal effort to collect data is needed to ensure safety at amusement parks.

“Right now it is hard to get a clear picture of what is happening because there is a patchwork system of regulation and enforcement,” said Mehan, who conducted a 2013 study on child injuries at amusement parks. “We need a national injury reporting system for all mobile and fixed-site rides that will allow for better surveillance and consistent enforcement of standards.”

“There’s no mechanism for the parks themselves or the ride manufacturers to report injuries or mechanical failures to any organization,” she said.

Inconsistent regulation of amusement parks

The Consumer Product Safety Commission oversees the regulation of mobile amusement parks. But, it’s up to the individual state or locality to decide who is responsible for inspections of the mobile parks. For fixed-site amusement parks, there is not one body nationally that oversees regulation – instead that is left to state and local governments. Several states do not regulate amusement parks at all.

“Back in the early ‘80s, our authority to oversee fixed-site rides was taken away from us,” said Scott Wolfson, spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission told CNN previously. “We do deal with mobile rides, like those at local carnivals, but we are a small agency, and it’s tough to oversee every fair that sets up for a short period of time.”

An Ohio state inspection official said the Fire Ball ride at the Ohio State Fair was inspected multiple times before riders boarded it on Wednesday and no red flags were found.

“It’s been looked at about three or four times over the course of two days,” said Michael Vartorella, chief ride inspector for Ohio’s Division of Amusement Ride Safety. He said that on Wednesday, “it was inspected at a couple of different stages and it was signed off.”

Walter Reiss, an independent amusement ride safety inspector, told HLN’s Michaela Pereira on Friday that once mobile rides are assembled at their location, they usually have only a visual inspection. He also said that rides may be assessed for damages using non-destructive testing, but the frequency and the parts inspected are usually dictated by the manufacturer.

“Generally, when you’re inspecting on-site when it’s been re-erected after just being moved, you’re doing mainly a visual inspection,” said Reiss. “You can require the non-destructive testing if you see something that’s suspect. But generally, the non-destructive testing through using the X-ray, the mag-particle, the ultrasound, that’s gonna be something you’re going to do only when it’s disassembled in a shop somewhere.”

Investigators from the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Consumer Product Safety Commission are currently looking into why the Fire Ball malfunctioned.

In a statement from Amusements of America, the Fire Ball ride’s operator, the organization said it is cooperating with the investigation: “Our family-owned company is committed to working with state and local experts in trying to determine the cause of this tragic accident.”

Best practices for amusement park safety

If people choose to ride amusement park rides, there are several guidelines to keep in mind for safety, especially for children.

• Always follow all posted height, age, weight and health restrictions.

• Make sure to follow any special seating order and/or loading instructions.

• Always use safety equipment such as seat belts and safety bars.

• Make sure children keep hands and feet inside the ride at all times.

• Know your child. If you don’t think he/she will be able to follow the rules, keep him/her off the ride.

• Trust your instincts. If you are worried about the safety of the ride, choose a different activity.

• Avoid “mall rides” if they are over a hard, unpadded surface or if they don’t have a child restraint, such as a seat belt.

Follow CNN Health on Facebook and Twitter

  • See the latest news and share your comments with CNN Health on Facebook and Twitter.

“Many parents either assume that the rides at amusement parks are safe and that they’re being inspected, or they don’t even stop to think about how safe they might be,” said Mehan. “So we want parents to learn in their state how rides are being inspected, by whom, and how often, so they can make the decision for themselves whether or not they want to take that risk before they go on the ride.”

CNN’s Steve Almasy, Nicole Chavez, Eric Levenson and Val Wadas-Willingham contributed to this report.