The recent death of a roller coaster rider at Six Flags Over Texas may have prompted skepticism about such rides among some park patrons, but one expert says Oklahoma has one of the best inspection programs around.
Senior Ride Inspector Randy McGinnis has been examining rides for the Oklahoma Labor Department for 15 years. McGinnis said he's confident in the inspections his team has done in the state this season.
Oklahoma Amusement Ride Safety Laws require all rides to be inspected at the operating site before the season opens. All rides in the state, from major roller coasters to inflatable games, are inspected annually by the department, and they often are spot-checked again later in the summer for critical points.
Critical points include areas known for wear, such as latches, lap bars, hitches and other areas that are important to ride safety, McGinnis said.
Despite recent amusement park incidents, studies show the possibility of danger at a park is relatively low.
In the U.S., a person is at higher risk for injury playing basketball or football, or even fishing than while on rides at an amusement park, according to the National Safety Council Research & Statistical Services Group.
Injuries on fixed-site amusement rides have deceased by nearly half in the past decade, the safety group said. In 2002, 8.2 injuries per million in attendances at amusement parks were reported. In 2011, it was down to 4.2 injuries per million, according to the council research.
Inspection plays a large part in reducing possible incidents, McGinnis said.
“Having a good team, we've eliminated a lot of mechanical problems,” he said.
On July 19, 52-year-old Rosy Esparza fell to her death from the Texas Giant roller coaster at Six Flags. In Texas, the state Insurance Department is charged with providing oversight to amusement park safety.
McGinnis said if an initial inspection in Oklahoma shows repairs are needed, parks must do the maintenance, and then those repairs must be reinspected and approved by the Labor Department. The inspections can take anywhere from one day to an entire month, McGinnis said.
“On average, we spend about a month out at Frontier City, that's the biggest park we have in the state,” McGinnis said.
Smaller parks like Andy Alligator's in Norman would take a couple days, he said.
McGinnis said most parks also have their own daily inspections.
Frontier City, for example, is inspected every morning by park employees, he said.
“Between the inspection we give and that type of safety program, I feel comfortable with it,” he said.
Frontier City had little comment regarding ride safety, other than to say the park hasn't been affiliated with Six Flags since 2007, and the accident in Texas was a tragedy, Marketing Director Jo Ann Keirsey said.