Something to consider as summer begins: According to The Oregonian there are “more than 300 carnival rides with valid permits in the state.” But it is worth asking what, exactly, those permits mean. Many Oregonians visiting a traveling carnival this summer may assume that the state permit posted prominently on each ride means it has been inspected by the by a government official for safe operation and maintenance. As the newspaper outlines, however, that is not really the case.
“When it comes to carnival ride regulation, Oregon falls somewhere in the middle, between California – a state with a dense thicket of amusement park and carnival regulations – and Alabama, where regulation is essentially nonexistent,” the newspaper reported recently. “Oregon doesn’t have a government-funded inspection program. Instead it relies on insurance companies to verify that each ride has been inspected and is ready for use.” Carnivals send the forms provided by their insurance companies to the state, pay a $28 fee and, in return, receive their permits from the Oregon Building Codes Division. While federal standards for carnival rides do exist (they are issued by the Consumer Product Safety Commission) adherence to them is voluntary, The Oregonian reports.
According to the newspaper, Oregon is lucky in one respect: because Washington has much stricter rules, and because many inspectors work in both states, “almost by default, Oregon ends up following Washington’s more stringent regulations.” The same inspector would be paid by the carnival operator in Oregon but by the state inspections body when working in Washington.
The article goes on to detail a long list of incidents at Oregon carnivals over the last few years. Taken altogether, they raise serious questions about whether we as Oregonians should continue to accept what amounts to self-regulation for an industry that carries such an obvious risk of injuries to children.
As a Portland attorney it is worth adding that from a legal point of view carnival equipment that malfunctions here in Oregon may meet the state’s definition of a dangerous product. Oregon and Washington law both require companies to maintain their equipment properly, to ensure that staff are trained in how to operate it and to keep that maintenance and training up to date. It is worth asking how well carnival staff – often young, inexperienced and prone to quick turnover – are trained when it comes to the operation and maintenance of these complicated pieces of machinery.
The Oregonian’s article (linked below) is essential reading for any parent, and offers much to consider before getting on a carnival ride this summer – as well as useful tips for spotting better-maintained equipment. Families planning to travel this summer will also be interested in the map provided by the newspaper detailing which states carefully regulate carnival rides and which ones do not.
The Oregonian: Carnival Season: Just How Safe Are Those Rides?