PA’s regulation of amusement parks falls short in inspections, enforcement

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DelGrosso’s Amusement Park in Blair County, Pa. (Photo by Jeremy Thompson/Flickr)
 

Pennsylvania has more amusement park rides than any other state, with 9,300 registered rides. And its parks are unmatched in safety, Gov. Tom Corbett said in a June press release, because of the state’s rigorous ride-inspection program.

But a PublicSource investigation shows that the state agency that oversees amusement parks doesn’t track the safety inspection reports that parks are required by law to file each month they are open.

State records show that more than half of Pennsylvania’s permanent parks and water parks did not turn in all of their 2012 reports — affidavits in which certified inspectors attest that they’ve performed the inspections required by law. The agency had no reports at all for 12 of the state’s 117 permanent parks and water parks PublicSource analyzed.

Among the parks in the data are large amusement parks, such as Hersheypark with 80 rides, and smaller parks like The Fun Station in Gouldsboro, Pa., with just three, according to 2012 state registrations. Records show Hersheypark filed all its required reports last year. The Fun Station, in the Poconos, did not file any, according to records provided in response to a Right-To-Know request.

 

 

The Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Ride and Measurement Standards oversees the parks. Walter Remmert, who has been director of the bureau since 2011, was given a list of parks for which the bureau had no inspection reports in 2012. He said he didn’t know about the missing reports until PublicSource informed him.

The agency’s enforcement actions are scant. Even parks that have repeatedly failed to turn in safety inspection reports seldom pay fines, and rides are rarely shut down.

In 2011, a bureau official wrote that Scranton’s Sno Cove water park in Sno Mountain ski resort had “operated all of last year with NO INSPECTIONS.”

Joe Filoromo, supervisor of the bureau’s Amusement Ride Safety Division, wrote in an internal email that Sno Cove’s failure to inspect was “among the most blatant of violations” and should receive a “serious fine immediately.”

No fine was issued.

Laura Woodburn, a spokeswoman with the nonprofit National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials, said it’s the job of the regulators to enforce the laws. (Woodburn is also director of ride operations for Hersheypark, but does not speak on behalf of the park.)

“It’s up to the police officers to make sure we’re following the rules,” she said. “There has to be a body that provides accountability.” 

Several former state inspectors said the Pennsylvania inspection program and enforcement of the law isn’t what it once was.

“It was a model program. It is a laughingstock now,” said Thomas Abod, a former state inspector who worked for the bureau and was furloughed in 2009. It could be great once again, he said, if properly run.

State Rep. John Maher, R-Allegheny/Washington, chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture and Rural Affairs, said that if even a few parks can get through a season without filing a single safety report, the bureau needs a better system.

“Someone ought to be investigating,” Maher said. “I intend to make inquiries promptly.”

 

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