How Safe are State Fair Midway Rides? A Whole Group of State Inspectors is Making Sure

Aug 22, 2017

Many fans of the New York State Fair are anxious to get inside the gates and head to the rides in the midway.  This year's fair boasts the biggest midway ever, with 80 different rides.  But some people - especially parents - might have the memory of a fatal accident on a carnival ride in Ohio. 

That's where Eileen Franko and her inspectors from the State Labor Department come in.

“So this is the ride; they start to untangle it.  It’s amazing how they can fold it all up.”

They get a close look at the rides as they arrive by truck folded up and in pieces.  Rudy Goetz looks beyond obvious rust or cracks.

“As long as you’re not seeing welds that are broken, cracks, stuff like that, missing teeth (in gears), things that are loose and flopping around, some of the sensors.  You want to make sure they’re all plugged in.  And that stuff you cannot check until the ride is assembled and all powered.  Make sure that when it’s down, it says it’s down and when it’s up it says it’s up.”

10 inspectors are working full time as rides are being assembled and run, before any children or adults get on.
Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News

Goetz is one of nine or ten inspectors who check before rides are assembled and after they're up and running.  Franko says after the Ohio fatality - and any serious ride accident - they take a close look.

“We get all reports of serious injuries and fatalities that happen on these rides.  I’ve been here five years.  So from the time that I’ve been here, each one of those is looked at to find out, what happened, could it have been prevented, and what can we learn from that going forward?”

She adds New York has had only one fatality in five years, a ride operator who walked into the path or an operating ride.  Some of the most spectacular rides are the most popular with patrons so operators want them up and running, which can lead to tensions.

“I guess the more dangerous it is, the more spectacular the ride is.  Fairs are rated by patrons on the severity of the rides.  So if it’s not running, there’s a lot of time there’s tension but we just can’t allow anything to run that we are not confident in, that it is going to be safe.”

Ride inspectors are there until opening day...and check periodically throughout the Fair.  Each ride has a tag affixed to it that conforms the safety check, with a date.  The New York State Fair opens Wednesday.