CNE 2017 construction week field trip

This year, three Ryerson Engineering students joined the CNE construction field trip (from left, Taha Simsek, Tyler Nagata, Meghan Keegan). Aside from posing with Squirtles (Pokémon game prizes likely to be the hot commodity this year), they had the opportunity to join me in shadowing some ride inspections and watching the assembly of Canada’s largest fair.

Three students

One fun activity is trying to identify rides before they’re completely assembled. We won’t give away the answer to the one below (dark green, in front of the assembled Niagara Falls portable flume, with TFC home stadium in the background).


CBC article

Happy to provide information and quotes for this good effort by CBC to provide a balanced report.

“Amusement ride accidents are spectacular, but experts say they’re rare”.

As some supplementary commentary on the report, we have no national Canadian database, nor does the USA. Attractions report injuries and ridership to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, which concludes that injuries occur in one per 16 million rides taken. The source data is retained by each park, so no further overall analysis (such as the nature of the failures involved) can be made by others. Most analysis uses Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) data.

CPSC estimates for U.S. national prevalence of amusement ride injuries may be overstated by 40%. When I analysed individual data points from this database for the year 2010, I found that total national estimate for “amusement ride injuries” was 22,520, but reviewing the individual data points, only 13,770 (61%) of them seemed to actually be other types of attractions rather than rides. Some of the included devices were mis-classified playground equipment, waterpark attractions, trampolines and other gymnastic equipment, and go karts. Other devices mentioned in some reports included ball pits, obstacle courses, swan boats, games, laser tag, haunted houses/corn mazes, and mechanical horses in shopping centres and mechanical bulls in bars that were correctly coded as “amusement attractions (including rides)” but should really be a separate classification. If I want to evaluate my risk of being harmed by mechanical failure when I get on a Ferris wheel or roller coaster, I don’t need to factor in the incidence of people tripping and falling their way through various walkthrough attractions.

Another criticism of this estimate for ride injuries is the source data. Because CPSC data is extrapolated from a network of 100 ERs that participate in the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS). It is debatable whether the dispersal of these sites across the USA is as representative for something like amusement parks as they are for consumer products like toasters and lawnmowers, and even CPSC has acknowledged this in their own past reports.)

If you are interested in which US states have regulatory oversight of rides, check this page from Saferparks.

When the worst happens

The worst thing that can happen at a theme park, amusement park, water park, or carnival is an injury to a rider.  The rider and their family obviously are hurt worst, but the owner/operator and the entire industry shares the pain.

Many people work very hard to make sure rider injury does not happen, and because of the success of that effort, it rarely does happen. In the immediate aftermath, thoughts often go to negligence. Was the inspection skipped or shortcut? Did someone leave a part out? Did the rider bring it on themselves by misbehaving?

This speculation is the reason authorities often say very little immediately following an injury to one or more riders. However, it is probably safer to bet against negligence than on it.

Rather than misbehaving, it is more likely that a rider error was miscalculation or misunderstanding.

Inspection is a complex task, and inspectors are resourceful about consulting their network to share safety information. Inspections may not catch a critical defect (such as a crack or corrosion) because it was concealed inside other parts or failed so abruptly that the defect was not detectable at all at the time of inspection. A ride may have been maintained and inspected precisely as described in the manufacturer’s manual, but rarely, an unexpected failure mode occurs for the first time that could not be detected by any of the prescribed inspection procedures. A typical manufacturer response is to immediately order all similar rides out of service until the defect is fully understood and an inspection and repair program is developed.

Even assembly and maintenance omissions or errors are more likely a misunderstanding of requirements than lack of care for safety. Operators and their staff put their own family on the rides as well. A strong system of inspection is a valuable backup for any omissions and errors that occur in assembly and maintenance.

The reason the accident occurred may be a mystery until the investigation is completed, but there is no mystery why the injury happened.

Rider injuries occur when a large amount of energy attacks the body.   One of the most serious failure modes is if the rider separates from the seat, or the seat or vehicle separates from the rest of the ride, causing the rider to land on the ground or strike against another structure. The degree of injury will depend on the amount of energy transferred to the rider’s body on impact and the body part receiving the impact.

If a little car detached from a small, low, slow umbrella kiddie ride, the following cars may bump into the stopped one, before the operator manages to activate the stop button. Properly seated children may bump against the “steering wheel” when the cars collide but no ejection or fall would be expected.

There is a lot more energy at play when the rider’s body is moving fast, high in the air, or both. Even in a high-energy ride, however, unless the rider or the seat separates from the rest of the ride, the injuries are likely to be little more than muscle strains and bumps from sliding and flailing in the seat.

Injuries on amusement rides are rare. Many injuries recorded as “amusement ride” injuries involve devices that are not carnival rides or theme park rides. Industry-sponsored independent analysis reports that millions of rides are taken every year and the number of serious injuries (let alone fatal injuries) are very few. Patrons who are not comforted by the extremely rare rate of occurrence of injury on amusement rides can look for rides that are slow and low to the ground, and follow all instructions, so that if a device malfunction occurs, any injury would likely be minimal.

Report of rider injury

The fatal injury on the Schlitterbahn “Verrückt” waterslide has been reported as a decapitation.

Earlier accounts referred to a “neck injury”. Reporters enthusiastically parsed past Consumer Product Safety Commission reports and noted 28% of injuries in their dataset were head and neck injuries. They did not report that the CPSC data on amusement rides substantially overstates injury occurrence due to the inclusion of swan boats, ball pits, laser tag, corn mazes and other things that are not what you would popularly consider “amusement rides”. A study I published in the journal Safety Science in 2014 found the national estimate of actual amusement ride injuries was less than 2/3 of what CPSC data would suggest.

And let’s be honest: most of those head and neck injuries are concussions and soft tissue injuries like whiplash, perhaps a bump on the nose from impact due to abrupt acceleration or deceleration. Those are not habit forming and should not happen, but decapitation is a completely different situation. We shouldn’t consider this just another dot in the “head and neck injury” pie wedge.

I will note that I have no particular knowledge of what occurred in this case, and can only react to the reported descriptions. Some reports have questioned the condition of the restraint devices in the rafts. Some rides may not require any restraint at all, since the forces on the rider’s body are primarily gravity forcing them toward the seat. Restraints on many kiddie rides are mainly to prevent unsafe behaviour like standing up. If the rider stays in the correct position, the forces would not remove them from the ride. However, this slide has been described as having “air time” or forces up out of the seat.

On roller coasters and other rides that must comply with ASTM F2291 standard, rides must have a restraint device selected in appropriately to the forces on the rider’s body. When there are substantial forces away from the seat, not only will a restraint be required, that restraint may require redundant components, and locking mechanisms that the rider cannot open intentionally or unintentionally.

Riders who separate from a ride vehicle (due to ride acceleration or by climbing out intentionally) can fall or strike against objects in the vicinity of the ride can sustain more serious injuries than impact within the ride vehicle. It is critical on an amusement ride that the ride restraint and containment system (lap bar, seat belt) is appropriate to the ride, works properly, and fits.

The restraint must also fit the rider’s body. It is probably obvious that a rider who is too big to close the restraint or too tall to fit under the shoulder bar will not be able to ride safely. Riders who are too slender may be able to reposition into a dangerous position within the closed restraint, or even slip out from the proper seating position, due to ride forces. Petite riders inside a spacious restraint should ensure that they understand the forces on their body.

Restraints that open while the ride is operating present a grave danger. Even if they are just to deter impulsive behaviour, some riders may need that. If they are there to counteract ride forces, they have to work, every time.

The attractions industry is devoted to safety and I know that every single person in the industry has been thinking about this terrible event since it occurred, dedicated to making sure it cannot happen again.

Fall-Winter 2016-2017 Work-Study Position: Research Assistant

NOTE: The lab has NO open funded Research Assistant positions at this time. This post will be left here to allow visitors to familiarize themselves with the type of position that may appear from time to time. The lab welcomes inquiries from students who do not require funding, e.g., for thesis and capstone project supervision.

The Research Assistant (RA) will compile amusement ride injury reports from various sources, code into a database, and generate reports. Initial sources will include major media archives of news reports. The database will use a novel approach to coding these records and will help the THRILL Lab demonstrate the feasibility of this database structure, as well as generate reportable analysis of patterns.

What other work-study job can you find where your interest in and knowledge of amusement rides is an asset?

Is this what work looks like for you?

kids on ride

Do you have:
  • Superior Internet search and Excel/word processing skills for data extraction, management, and analysis?
  • Attention to detail, persistence, resourcefulness, and discretion?
  • Good oral and written communication skill and interpersonal skills including diplomacy for interaction with external partners?
  • Programming skill? (Desirable, to develop tools to streamline data input and organization.)
Academic requirements
  • Demonstrated academic record of strong performance in courses using systematic analysis (send an unofficial transcript).
  • OHS students must have satisfactorily completed OHS 323, and OHS 523 is recommended.
  • Industrial Engineering students with excellent course results in Human Factors.
  • Required knowledge and experience is likely commensurate with 4th year studies.
To make the most professional use of this work-study, you will do one or more of:
  • Use this project in a capstone or thesis experience, student paper submission to conference, etc.
  • Work every single hour of the average 8 hours per week in the THRILL Lab, do the work-study hours ahead of crunch weeks for assignments, and never reschedule work-study time for other jobs.
  • Meet with me regularly to discuss progress and your ideas.
  • Leverage the work-study in professional networking
thrill lab with some students
There is always paperwork

The RA will track hours worked and submit these online for my approval, and also report progress weekly. Unused Fall hours cannot be carried over to Winter.

But some paper is good

The funded position is $17.54 per hour (+ benefits) up to 100 hours per term.

How to apply
  1. Read the above carefully.
  2. Email me and in the body of the email, demonstrate your professional communication skill (please, no “Hey firstname!”) to summarize how you match the description on this page. (This is your “covering letter”.)
  3. Attach three things to your email: (1) a PDF of your résumé titled yourname_resume, where obviously you replace the variable “yourname” with your actual name, (2) your unofficial transcript screenshot(s) from RAMSS combined into a single PDF if more than one screen-full, titled yourname_transcript, and (3) the email you received from the Financial Aid office confirming your eligibility for Fall-WInter 2016-2017. (Your unofficial RAMSS printout must not be altered in any way, and if it does not match your official record, any offer will be void.)
  4. Applications will be considered until the position is filled, but only applications received by 12 September 2016 will be guaranteed consideration. (This blog post will be updated if this date is officially extended.)


Disneyland Shanghai

The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) hosts a series of valuable international conferences and expos. The IAAPA Asian Attractions Expo 2016 was held in Shanghai at the Shanghai New International Expo Centre (SNIEC) in mid-June, including a reception on the evening of opening day of Disneyland Shanghai, and a day visit to the park on Day 2.

This new Disney Park is the largest park in area, has the largest castle, and is distinctly Chinese (yes, including the majority of washroom facilities and many of the dining options). Like other parks with Downtown Disney and Disney Springs, Shanghai has Disneytown outside its gates. In addition to Mickey and his closest friends, and Asian favourite Duffy the Disney Bear, there are several merchandise ranges featuring Disney characters corresponding to the lunar calendar.

The park opened with a relatively limited number of rides, particularly given its massive area, but further expansion is already underway, and the opening day lineup included some game changers. The relatively new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train from the Magic Kingdom is repeated here. The classic Peter Pan’s Flight tells the same story with extensive new technologies for the effects. Carousel, spinner, boats present and accounted for. Parades, pyrotechnics, and castle projection show also well executed. But the real story for me is Pirates of the Caribbean and TRON Lightcycle Power Run.

POTC is a classic Disney ride that inspired a movie series, which inspired a reimagining of the park ride, and so on. The Shanghai POTC is otherworldly. This version is widely believed to be an implementation of underwater control of boats rather than water flow propulsion. Boats are positioned to direct the riders’ attention to scenery and screens at specific points of the ride, and even travel backwards. (The backwards travel was reminiscent of the former Maelstrom of Epcot Norway , and passing by the “night time” restaurant diners resembled Gran Fiesta Tour of Epcot Mexico). Like many new blockbuster attractions, POTC uses huge, vivid screens to immerse riders in scenes of the story. The Shanghai version seems to pick up where previous POTC story left off, with the jailed pirates and dog with the keys now skeletons, and takes the rider on a spectacular journey. For those without a visa or travel budget to China, or who don’t mind spoilers, enjoy it from a distance through POV videos on the internet.


The TRON Lightcycle Power Run is part of a completely reimagined Tomorrowland. Designed to work particularly at night, this land plays with contours, light, and motion to create an ambience of the future, or perhaps Space, or both. In addition to the TRON ride, the land includes themed quick service dining, a spinner with a jetpack seat design, and a disco with DJ. TRON is a Vekoma motorcycle roller coaster with kneeling seat position and restraint pressed against your back – a good human factors approach to making it thrilling as well as safe. Also clever that the Cycle wheels turn white when the restraint is closed, showing at a glance which riders are not yet secured. The Cycle even has a little bin for your glasses so you are not deprived of your prescription while you pass all the rider information video and awesome special effects in the queue (like the wall that is a window!) For accessibility, at least one train of Cycles has a little car that can accept riders transferring from wheelchairs, who are unable to adopt the kneeling position.


For a video clip of TRON Lightcycles passing under the outdoor show building overhang, see my tweet.

Both are stunning, but most give the edge to POTC. However, for same day re-ride, you cannot beat TRON.


Parksmania recognizes ride accessibility initiative

During the IAAPA Europe, Middle East and Africa Spring Forum at Gardaland Park in Peschiera del Garda, Italy, THRILL Lab Director Dr. Kathryn Woodcock was honoured with a  Career Special Award for Professional Merit. This award recognized her leadership in the attractions industry project promoting expanded accessibility and risk-informed rider eligibility for rides.

Dr. Woodcock says, “interest and awareness of ride accessibility has been growing in recent years, with Americans with Disabilities Act raising expectations not only for children with disabilities and their parents but also adults with disabilities and their families as well, that most rides would be accessible to as many people as possible. Designer/engineers and owner/operators need tools to review ride eligibility criteria to ensure that restrictive eligibility criteria are justified. The Italian manufacturers, and other industry experts, medical experts, and consumer community have given strong support to moving this project forward worldwide.”

Parks mania award to Dr. Woodcock

The Rider Eligibility Task Group continues to meet and host open workshops at ASTM F24 meetings and IAAPA Expos.

For more information about the Parksmania Awards (in Italian).

(Stage photo courtesy of Jim Seay of Premier Rides.)