TORONTO – As one of the largest fairs in North America opened its doors in Toronto on Friday, safety advocates say better tracking of amusement park injuries could help protect Canadians who take part in the festivities.
Studies show most injuries sustained in amusement parks are minor but a recent tragedy in Kansas City that saw a 10-year-old boy killed on a waterslide has renewed scrutiny on ride safety.
There are no national statistics on amusement park injuries either in Canada or the U.S., where regulations and enforcement are left to the provinces or states.
What’s more, the Canada Safety Council says incidents are often under-reported, particularly when it comes to smaller injuries like bruises or broken toes.
The non-profit says that while amusement park injuries aren’t necessarily a major danger, there are a few significant incidents each year — and it’s worth trying to prevent them from reoccurring.
Spokesman Lewis Smith says greater transparency would help the industry adopt best practices that would then enhance safety.
“When it comes to amusement parks, people often don’t necessarily have the option of comparison shopping or looking around for which one has the fewest accidents,” he said.
“For industry professionals, it would definitely be useful to have a compilation of injuries, injury reports and fatalities, because it’s based on that that we can see what’s working, see what’s not working and address the problem so that they’re no longer problem issues.”
The Technical Standards and Safety Authority, which enforces amusement ride regulations in Ontario, said better reporting has led to an increase in logged injuries in the province, from 89 in 2008 to 556 in 2015.
Only four per cent of injuries are due to unsafe equipment or operation, the agency said in its latest report. Meanwhile, 94 per cent are related to rider behaviour, the report said, citing “physical impact with rides and falls during loading and unloading” as the leading causes of injuries.
Waterslides make up only 10 per cent of amusement rides but account for close to a third of all incidents, the “vast majority” of which are due to rider behaviour, it said.
There have been no amusement park deaths since 1998, the agency said.
The deadliest incident reported took place in 1986 at the West Edmonton Mall when three people were killed and a fourth seriously hurt in a derailment of the Mindbender roller-coaster.
More recently, an Ontario waterpark was fined $500,000 last year for safety violations that led to incidents in 2011 and 2012, according to media reports at the time.
Smith, of the Canada Safety Council, said it’s important for fair-goers to respect the rules, which are put in place after consultations with the engineers who manufacture the ride.
“Often, riders will ignore safety guidelines and restrictions, including height and weight limitations, because they either don’t understand why the restrictions are in place or they hold the common belief that injuries happen to others, but not to them,” he said.
“Other common rider behaviour injuries include trying to access restricted areas because of a dropped necklace, a hat that flew off during a ride, or similar events. To avoid these types of preventable injuries, riders should avoid bringing such loose objects to the park in the first place.”
A spokeswoman for the Canadian National Exhibition, which opened Friday in Toronto, said safety is a “top priority” at the fair.
“All amusement rides at the CNE (and in Ontario) are inspected and certified by the Technical Standards and Safety Authority and the Electrical Safety Authority prior to the opening of the fair, and on a daily basis for all 18-days of the Fair,” Tran Nguyen said in an email.
“The CNE also works with third-party safety engineers to ensure a high level of maintenance and structural integrity of each ride.”
When asked about calls for national regulations, including on incident reporting, the CNE’s general manager Virginia Ludy said the fair would support federal oversight so long as it was “consistent and/or exceeded the current high standards governed by the TSSA.”