After the freak accident at the Ohio State Fair, how safe are UK rides?

After the freak accident at the Ohio State Fair, how safe are UK rides?

One person died and seven more were injured after the Fireball ride broke down (Credit: Twitter @maxvaldes)

Thursday, July 27, 2017

To thrill-seekers in both Britain and America, the fairground is a cultural trope in itself. Dodgems, hotdogs, candyfloss... it's an intrinsic part of summer on both sides of the pond.

Yet, after the tragedy at the Ohio State Fair, the safety of such attractions is once again a burning issue.

If you've not read the full details of what happened in Ohio, an attraction called Fireball, which swings people through the sky in a pendulous motion, broke apart in mid-air, throwing a section of the ride and the people in it to the ground.

One person has died and seven left injured in the wake of the accident. The governor of Ohio has ordered an investigation into the Fireball, while the fair has been shut down until further tests can be conducted. The fair was attended by more than 980,000 people last year, and it's fair to assume that figure will be down this year.

But, for UK readers, there's a wider issue here. Britain is home to countless permanent and temporary attractions similar to the one in Ohio. In addition to the permanent theme parks such as Alton Towers, thousands flock to the seasonal fairs such as Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, and the small carnival-style fetes erected in public parks on bank holiday weekends.

But just how safe are these attractions? We've seen the Smiler disaster at Alton Towers and the tragic case of a girl who drowned at Drayton Manor earlier this year. Is this evidence of a wider problem?

Well the stats, at first glance, make uncomfortable reading. Indeed there were a total of 489 injuries reported at funfairs and theme parks over the 2014-15 year - an increase of 100 on the previous 12 months. In addition to the Drayton and Alton Towers tragedies, there've been a number of incidents at smaller fairs - such as malfunction on a ride in Ayr which sent five teenagers to hospital last September, or the stoppage which left 19 people dangling above London's South Bank a month earlier.

There was also the accident at a theme park in Motherwell, when a rollercoaster careered off its tracks and fell 30 feet, leaving eight kids and two adults injured.

Yet this figure should be quantified. Millions of people visited theme parks and funfairs every year in the UK. Drayton Manor, the scene of this year's tragedy this year, received over a million visitors on its own. While this can never excuse an accident, it should provide some form of comfort for those thinking of venturing down to their local park this summer.

Furthermore the industry, and its overseers, are certainly working hard to ensure maximum stafety. According to the Health and Safety Executive, “suitably qualified and experienced” designers are required on every fair, permanent or temporary and their designs are subject to a review, with safety aspects considered by a specialist inspection body. The reviewers have to confirm – in writing – that the design is sound and all calculations are correct.

Once the ride is constructed, it is assessed once again to ensure it stays in line with how it is designed to work, and inspectors must conduct an initial test of its functions. When it is up and running, it is a legal requirement that the operation manual be kept up-to-date. Daily checks and standard maintenance must be carried out, and suitable supervision and emergency procedures must be in place.

The rides are checked constantly for signs of damage and are under continuous review in order to make modifications, with safety of the utmost imperative. Each ride must be inspected annually, and the ride’s controller bears the liability for accidents. So the chances of a sharp-eyed fair owner cutting corners to save a few quid are mimimal. The system is designed to prevent that.

None of this is to say that the sort of tragedy witnessed in Ohio could not repeated in the UK over what's left of the summer. But the chances of it happening are, thankfully, minute.