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Keeping you safe: Workers check, recheck rides to give fair patrons peace of mind

August 22nd, 2011 11:47 pm by Gary B. Gray

Go for it. Shake up those sensory receptors, and the other stuff, too.
The Appalachian Fair in Gray is up and running, and so are a multitude of mechanical wonders built to excite and satisfy. Over 30 rides, from the tame to the trying, have been securely placed, tested, checked and double-checked in order to provide the masses with a pleasurable yet safe experience.
The Moon Rocket, Kamikaze, Hammer and Cyclops are all here. The Pirate, the classic Tilt-A-Whirl and about a dozen children’s rides also await you to climb aboard, buckle up and have a scream and a wince.
Fair staff say they completely understand and appreciate the exuberance, but there is one simple thing within your control that you can do to ensure your well-being: the more aware a rider is of safety, the less accidents there are, and the less accidents there are, the happier everyone is.
“Often, issues are created out here because of our patrons’ behavior,” said James Graybeal, Augusta, Ga.-based Drew Exposition show manager. “We travel from state to state. Some require only that we have insurance; others will have five inspectors checking to see that every nut and bolt is in place.
All ride operators at the fair are trained, and there is a person certified in ‘non-destructive testing’ who goes around checking for stress fractures and other potential problems.
“The thing we can’t control is behavior,” Graybeal said.
The leading cause of accidents from fair or amusement park rides is not malfunctions but rider misconduct, according to a recent report from The National Consumer Product Safety Commission. And the numbers could be reduced even further if people’s awareness of ride safety was heightened.
The number of people who are injured from drinking glasses is 17 times that of the number of people injured on amusement rides, according to the report. Some of the other more “dangerous” activities are: mowing a lawn, riding a skateboard, riding a bike and playing billiards.
All Appalachian Fair operators are drug tested on site before they can even assemble the rides. They also are given background checks. Some of the more elaborate rides also employ a ride foreman who oversees the operators and the attraction’s overall function.
Graybeal and Jim Caskey are certified with the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials.
“All these rides are designed to be moved every week,” Caskey said. “What James and I do is look to see that all the connecting points, such as hinges, are in proper working order. We wear a lot of different hats, but we stay in close touch with all operators.”
The men said there’s a lot more to safety than just the operation of the ride. They also must inspect fire lanes, distances from power lines, and distances between the rides themselves to make sure there is plenty of leeway.
Not counting food and games, there are about 60-70 ride operators on hand this year.
“Some people travel with the company from town to town,” Graybeal said. “Some people already have jobs but choose to be operators while they’re on vacation. All in all, when we move this, it’s like moving a city, and most of the people go with it.”
Visitors will notice a new ride made in Germany where the Seattle Wheel, the traditional Ferris Wheel, used to sit. The ride is called the Flying Circus.
“Last week we were in Franklin, Tennessee, and a youngster started spinning the chair, which is strung with steel chain,” Graybeal said. “It’s things like this that we hope won’t happen, but our operators will stop the ride and ask people to remove themselves if they act this way. In fact, we just replaced the chains on the circus swings, and they did not come from True Value, they were shipped from Germany.”
Graybeal and Caskey also receive manufacturer updates that may include new testing procedures for their products. The men said about half the rides are manufactured in the U.S. while the remainder is manufactured overseas.
“We want everybody to have fun,” Caskey said. “But you should keep your wits about you and do the right thing.”
Safety comes first, even when it comes to children’s rides. The Bumble Bee is a much tamer ride than the notorious Cyclops, yet it can be a thrill for the more diminutive rider. Its operator — “Mr. B.” — said he gets riders as young as 18 months old.
“It’s great fun for them,” he said while setting up. “I tell them it’s just like driving down the highway, so do like mommy and daddy and keep your seat belt on.”

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