As the design of roller coasters and amusement rides become ever more complex, it is important to take into consideration those areas through which a ride vehicle operates with respect to its proximity to humans and the potential for harm. In this article, amusement park safety expert Dan Doyle describes the different mechanisms and procedures that the industry has incorporated to provide safeguards against injury for riders, as well as ride attendants and bystanders.
Amusement Ride Site Security - Expert Article
All amusement rides pass through what is commonly called a “ride safety envelope,” or envelope of protection. It is an area of clearance around a ride vehicle substantial enough to prevent a rider from reaching out and touching, grabbing, or being struck by an object through which the vehicle passes. Conversely, it is an area through which a ride vehicle passes which will have enough clearance to prevent it from striking a bystander, attendant, technician, etc.
The scope of this area will vary greatly depending upon the footprint of the ride. Portable kiddy rides, flat rides and family rides as well as permanent rides like coasters, etc. will have a different footprint which must be controlled. Ultimately, any space which contains a pathway through which a ride vehicle passes must have a safe zone that accomplishes 2 objectives:
- Prevents a rider from coming in contact with any structure or obstacle during the course of the ride.
- Prevents a bystander from coming in contact with a ride vehicle.This is generally referred to as a Ride Restricted Area.
To this end, many ride manufacturers have incorporated safety features which will accomplish this without the need for human presence. Such a system ensures that any breach in the perimeter of the ride safety envelope into the Ride Restricted Area, or unexpected movement within it will stop the normal function of the ride and prevent any further movement beyond the last possible braking point.
The ride manufacturer has many options with regards to the detection systems available to indicate an anomaly in a restricted area. Gates which allow access to these areas can be equipped with sensors that detect any movement in their physical structure via mechanical, electronic or photo electric means. Once the ride safety system detects a change of state in these devices, normal operation of the ride would cease, and would require confirmation from the operator that the area is indeed secure before the system would allow the continuation of regular operation.
The ride manufacturer can also incorporate motion sensing devices in areas in which there would normally not be any movement during ride operation. If the sensor detects such a movement, normal operation would cease. In areas where one would expect to have riders present such as loading or unloading stations, any adjoining access to restricted areas can be protected by the placement of pressure mats or photo eyes which, if triggered, would stop vehicles at the nearest braking point. Barriers surrounding restricted areas should contain signage which clearly indicates that entering is strictly forbidden. The physical parameters of such barriers and the placement of signage should meet the minimum industry standards which would prevent someone from entering these areas.
Restricted area barriers are designed to eliminate intrusions into the pathway of a ride vehicle. Care should also be taken to prevent intrusions by what would seem to be permanent objects. Utility poles, scenic devices, signage, temporary structures, trees and other vegetation can be moved from a seemingly safe distance into the ride envelope or onto the vehicle track by severe weather conditions.
Objects installed around the track area or vehicle path of a ride should be placed far enough away that, should their foundation fail, they would not fall near enough to pose a danger. Landscaping within the restricted area might initially be well away from the ride envelope, but over time, may present an intrusion hazard. Objects like Christmas trees, theatrical lighting, characters, signage and other temporary additions within a ride restricted area can only be placed where, should they fall over, they would still be outside of the ride envelope. In the case of a 10 foot tall Christmas tree near the coaster track, for example, with the envelope around the track being 8 feet, they would have to anchor the tree at least 18 feet away from the track. The same standard is applied to the landscaping around the ride. Trees/shrubs may have to be moved after a couple of years of growth because of encroachment.
Regular, daily walks through the ride site should be part of the maintenance inspection program, and any potential intrusions into the ride envelope should be addressed before they become problematic. The addition of structures or scenery within a restricted area should comply with a comprehensive plan to ensure that their placement will not pose a danger should they fall.
Amusement Park Investigations
The amusement park experts at Robson Forensic investigate a broad range of issues involving operational procedures as well as the inspection and maintenance of equipment and machinery at fairs, carnivals, and other amusement facilities.
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Amusement Park Safety Expert
Dan has over 20 years of professional experience in the inspection and maintenance of amusement park rides. He applies his expertise to forensic investigations involving all aspects of amusement park rides: construction, operation and maintenance, fencing, surface conditions, and safety standards. Dan has extensive hands-on experience in all aspects of amusement park safety, including conducting safety audits at amusement parks across the US. He’s a member of the ASTM F24 Committee on Amusement Rides and Devices and holds several industry related certifications.