How safe are the rides?

Dylan Goetz • Jul 26, 2018 at 11:00 AM

Dustin Skerbeck says safety is his No. 1 priority when inspecting carnival rides.

It’s his job to take ride safety seriously, and it hits home knowing that his own children partake in the rides.

“When we have our safety meetings, I preach to the guys, ‘My own children are riding this equipment,’” Skerbeck said.

Skerbeck is the operating manager for Skerbeck Entertainment, a midway/carnival provider out of Escanaba. This is the company that will be providing the carnival entertainment at next week’s Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival.

The Carnival-Amusement Safety Act of 1966 regulates ride safety in Michigan, but Skerbeck sees it as just the minimum requirement.

“Every winter, I have to renew my safety certifications from two different organizations,” Skerbeck explained. “When you go there, you have to take about 40 hours of classroom work and, when it’s all said and done, you get a certificate.”

The state requires that a full inspection takes place after the rides are set up and before the carnival opens, but Skerbeck noted that each of the rides that will be used have been fully inspected by a third party in the past two months.

Using his degree in management, Skerbeck created a self-inspection guide that he has implemented across the company. Each of the company’s six inspectors have been with Skerbeck Entertainment for more than 10 years.

“I developed an in-house training program for our daily ride inspectors,” Skerbeck said. “I have two of them that have been with the company for 30 years.”

The biggest liability claims have been from people who slip and fall when coming on and off rides, or running in the midway, Skerbeck said.

“That’s typically where your accidents are going to happen,” he said. “It will be little things like someone’s hair will get pinched in a seat or a lot of times someone will accidentally pull someone’s hair.”

The company has never had a fatal accident, Skerbeck said. The worst injury at a Skerbeck Entertainment carnival was a broken arm. That person tripped and fell while exiting a ride that had already stopped, he noted.

Since the carnival industry has a short operating season, Skerbeck Entertainment uses the winter months to fully restore rides.

The biggest rides typically present the most risk, since they are more dangerous. However, Skerbeck says he takes that into account with stress tests on major structural components.

The thrill rides have much newer equipment and have very “technologically advanced” operating systems, Skerbeck said. All thrill rides have lock sensors in their lap bar and in the over-the-shoulder harness. They also have a dual lock system — so if it happens to fail and the operator does not catch it, a second lock will keep the customer safe.

“The sensors will actually shut the ride down without the operator having to give it a command,” Skerbeck said. “There was a time when rides were just built to thrill the customers, but not anymore.”

According to the Outdoor Amusement Business Association, 500 million guests visit carnivals, fairs and festivals across the country each year, and more than half of them participate on mobile amusement rides.

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