September 3, 2013
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania's method of inspecting rides at amusement parks, carnivals and fairs — a system that relies overwhelmingly on inspectors employed by or hired by ride operators — will be the subject of legislative hearings, lawmakers say.
House and Senate agriculture committees may hold a joint session or may convene separately, Sen. Elder Vogel, R-Lawrence County, told The (Johnstown) Tribune-Democrat (http://bit.ly/175rs2B ).
But, he said, lawmakers in both chambers want answers from the Department of Agriculture, which has just four inspectors to monitor the 9,300 rides total at every amusement park, carnival and fair in Pennsylvania.
Almost all the inspections are made by the operators, and the state inspectors focus on auditing their efforts.
Concerns about the ride inspection program were first raised by the Pittsburgh-based PublicSource, which examined inspection records for amusement parks across the state and found many cases of missing records.
The program that checks amusement park rides is also charged with tracking the safety of equipment at traveling carnival rides that set up for a few days in one location and move in and out of the state over the summer and fall.
For festivals and fairs, event organizers typically don't hire ride inspectors; instead, they are hired by each ride vendor.
A review of county fair inspections indicated that even when inspectors checked rides, there was no paperwork to document it. In other cases, state inspectors apparently didn't find out until after the fair ended that vendors hadn't hired their own inspectors to check their equipment.
In such cases, there is little that the agriculture department can do since the law doesn't allow vendors to be penalized unless the state can prove a pattern of illegal conduct, department spokeswoman Nicole Bucher said.
At traveling carnivals, the rides are inspected each time they are set up, but even that can present hazards. An inspector found that rides at one fair in Monroe County had been set up too close to power lines, according to government records.
Walt Remmert, director of the bureau of ride inspections, said the agriculture department's four inspectors divide the state into quarters and travel from town to town. Each is responsible for keeping track of about 200 of the roughly 800 amusement ride operators, but Remmert said they quickly learn which operators need careful scrutiny and which tend to police themselves.
One issue that sometimes arises is companies from outside the state coming to fairs in Pennsylvania and not immediately adjusting to local safety standards, Remmert said.