Published: Thursday, July 2, 2009
Amusement Ride Safety Watched Closely

By Tony Di Domizio
The Reporter, July 2, 2009

Tom Rebbie remembers 40 years back to the YMCA Fair when Oscar Magdule, founder and former owner of Oscar's Amusements, would walk around the carnival with his German shepherd, never afraid to meet those who were enjoying his rides.

"He stayed in business by being up front and not flinging people off rides," said Rebbie, Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters Inc. president.

"Oscar's is the most well-known amusement company in the area and has always been a good organization," said Rebbie, whose roller-coaster car company is based in Hatfield.

Oscar's Amusements is the company known for thrilling the public with its rides and booths at the St. Stanislaus carnival in Lansdale and other area fairs each year.

Like all amusement parks and carnivals, its reputation lies in its dedication to safety.

Both fixed-site rides — like Dorney Park or Hersheypark —and mobile-site rides — like Oscar's and other traveling carnivals — are scrutinized by the Pennsylvania Amusement Safety Ride Association.

"As Oscar's moves from location to location," Rebbie said, "they are sure when they set something up to set it up as it was before. Most carnivals are put out of business in the blink of an eye if they are caught circumventing ride safety."

Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters — which celebrates 105 years in business this year and will open the first wooden roller coaster in China's history — manufactures coaster cars, brakes, safety gates and spare parts.

"We are 105 years in the business not because we build shoddy rides; parks trust in us," he said. "They know where we stand: ride safety is number one."

Lisa Curcio, office manager for Oscar's Amusements, said there are two inspectors certified through the Department of Agriculture that work for the company. Their jobs consist of daily and weekly inspections.

They receive hands-on training from the manufacturers when the company buys rides and they know operator manuals by heart, she said.

The state Department of Agriculture usually inspects the rides once a week unannounced.

"Our inspections are above and beyond what the state requires," Curcio said. "We want everybody to be safe while riding on rides and have a good time. It also helps our insurance."

Oscar's has an overall blanket insurance for its rides.

"(Oscar's co-owner) Pat (Imes) is proud of our safety standards, our workers and people who are coming to our rides," Curcio said. "It also makes insurance companies call us frequently to get our business."

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), amusement rides constitute one of the safest forms of recreation.

Hundreds of thousands more injuries and fatalities occur with bicycling, soccer, skiing, snowmobiling and numerous other recreational activities, according to the commission.

"The truth is," Rebbie said, "there are not that many fatalities, considering the amount of people that pass through parks on a daily and yearly basis around the world. It's one of the safest industries in the world."

In 1981, Congress passed a bill that helped the CPSC have jurisdiction over amusement park rides. However, the bill defined "consumer product" to include traveling rides but not those fixed permanently at a park.

The CPSC comes into play when something goes wrong with a carnival ride.

"There is federal government oversight with the CPSC," said Bob Johnson, president of the Outdoor Amusement Business Association, which represents the mobile-ride industry. The fixed-ride industry is represented by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.

"If the CPSC sees a pattern, it will notify the manufacturer so it can understand what is going on," Johnson said.

According to the CSPC, there were 374,260 cases of injuries in the United States in 2008.

John Dillabaugh, director of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Ride and Measurement Standards, said there were 33 injuries reported so far this year. In 2008, there were 235 injuries, and 147 injuries in 2007.

The last fatality in Pennsylvania was in 2002, he said.

"Most of the reports are inflatables with people getting serious injuries, like a fracture of the neck but not paralysis," he said.

In New Jersey, there were no fatalities between 2007 and 2009. The Amusement Ride Safety Unit of the Bureau of Code Services under the Division of Codes and Standards reported five serious incidents in 2007 and six in 2008. So far this year, there were 17 non-serious injuries.

But serious accidents — like the one in 2008 when a 15-year-old girl's legs were severed on the Superman Tower of Power ride at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom — get attention.

"There's one incident and unfortunately somebody gets hurt or killed, it becomes so well publicized because it doesn't happen every day," Rebbie said. "Auto accidents don't get reported every day, because everybody accepts it. If someone gets hurt or killed on an amusement ride, it's big news, because it doesn't happen all the time."

Dillabaugh said when an incident occurs, every park with the ride is notified to suspend its use and do a thorough inspection.

The frequency of injuries and fatalities also falls on the rider.

Rebbie doesn't know what possesses some people to lean out and touch something while riding, especially when it's going 50 mph.

"Ninety-nine times out of 100, people are not doing what they are supposed to be doing," he said. "Get in, get locked down, enjoy the ride, get off, repeat."

Oscars Amusements
180 Amity Park Road
Douglassville, PA  19518

Phone: 484-651-7056
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