Ohio licenses nearly 1,000 more amusement rides now than it did a decade ago but the state Department of Agriculture has not hired more inspectors to handle the increased workload, state records show.
Between 2006 and 2015, licensed rides spiked 35 percent but the number of inspectors has fluctuated between seven and nine over that period.
In 2006, the state licensed 2,780 rides, 51 go-kart tracks, 309 portable ride companies and 122 permanent facilities. In 2015, the department licensed 3,762 rides, 32 go-kart tracks, 348 portable ride companies and 286 permanent facilities.
Likewise, state records show that spending on ride safety has not kept pace with the increased workloads. The budget for the Amusement Ride Safety program grew 6 percent to $1.17 million in 2015, up from $1.1 million in 2006.
Ohio’s eight inspectors must inspect more than 4,000 rides. Rides require annual permits and initial inspection before the public starts riding. The state inspection forms show 37 checkpoints, covering installation, structural, electrical and other items.
Ohio is home to two of the largest amusement parks in the country: Cedar Point and Kings Island. State inspectors cover those parks, as well as go-kart tracks, water parks, county fairs and inflatables such as giant slides and bouncy houses.
The tragic incident at the Ohio State Fair last week on its opening day is turning attention to the state’s amusement ride safety program.
Tyler Jarrell, 18, a recent Marine Corps recruit, died in the incident at the Ohio State Fair and seven others were injured. Four people remain hospitalized.
The Fire Ball ride passed state inspections earlier in the day and was cleared to open to the public. Likewise, records show Amusements of America, the ride and attractions vendor at the fair, performed a daily inspection and maintenance check.
Later that evening, the gondola laden with passengers detached from the supporting sweep arm, according to an official at KMG, the ride manufacturer. Bystander video captured a disturbing, scary scene: the gondola swept down and then upward as seats broke away and passengers were flung off into the air.
Michael Vartorella, chief inspector of amusement ride safety, said at a press conference: “We take this job very serious and when we have a tragedy like this, it hits us really hard. My children, my grandchildren ride this equipment. So, my guys do not rush through this stuff. We look at it, we take care of it and we pretend it’s our own.”
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