Flashing lights and the whirl of steel rides will be a welcome sight to many fairgoers this month at The Great Frederick Fair.
Death and major injuries from amusement rides in Maryland are “nonexistent,” said Kelly Schulz, the state secretary of labor, licensing and regulation. She attributes that to the state staff inspecting and licensing every amusement ride and traveling carnival ride that operates in the state.
Schulz is a resident of Frederick County and former member of the House of Delegates. She attends the fair and her favorite rides are the Ferris wheel and carousel, which are inspected each year before they are ever turned on, she said.
“This isn’t just the state fair. This isn’t just Ocean City. This is all the carnivals,” Schulz said.
Maryland is the only state with a staff working full time on amusement and carnival ride inspection and safety, according to Schulz. The unit has existed for 40 years and is made up of eight people.
The department looks for adherence to safety regulations and not just for faults in the rides, according to Schulz. Inspectors work with employees to do outreach and education while inspecting the rides, which has helped the state, consumers and ride vendors, she said.
The low accident rate speaks for itself, Schulz said.
In 2015, the accident rate for all of Maryland was 0.0028, or 28 per 10,000, according to the department records. All of the incidents were minor and there were no fatalities or major injuries, Schulz said.
Inspectors license a ride every time it is moved, according to Rob Gavel, the program manager for the safety inspection unit. Inspectors are there throughout the setup process, he said.
Clyde Crum, the chairman of the concessions committee, has overseen rides at The Great Frederick Fair for close to 40 years. The Agricultural Society has an open bidding process to select its ride vendor every three years. Reithoffer is currently in the second year of its contract, Crum said.
The Frederick News-Post requested amusement ride reports for Reithoffer Shows Inc. from the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation’s Division of Labor and Industry from 2013 to 2015. The agricultural society started contracting with Reithoffer in the 1990s, Crum said.
In 2013, there were five violations on Reithoffer’s rides, and only one — a missing bumper — could not be corrected while inspectors were still there. In 2015, inspectors found eight violations and corrected all but one violation on the spot, according to the inspection reports.
In 2014, Reithoffer had 28 rides at the fair, and all of the rides passed inspection. It is rare for rides to fail in Maryland, because the operators know the high standards the state has and maintain the rides, according to Gavel.
Inspectors found 19 violations that needed to be corrected on Reithoffer’s rides at The Great Frederick Fair in 2014 and 13 of those violations were corrected while the inspector was there, records show.
Inspectors made work orders for six items:
- Securing a carrier
- Installing an exit step
- Covering or removing a stake
- Replacing a worn lap bar
- Twice replacing broken control buttons.
A ride does not get its license until the work order is complete.
Broetsky Family Entertainment also had eight rides at the fair in 2014 and had 12 violations, according to an inspection record. All of the violations were fixed on the spot and all of the rides passed inspection.
At the end of the day, inspectors and vendors want the same thing: to open and operate the rides safely, Gavel said.
The Agricultural Society has had no problem with Reithoffer’s rides or service during the fair, Crum said. The vendor does a good job operating and maintaining its rides and keeps its bid competitive, Crum said.
“On the occasion if they have any mishaps, they’re right on it,” Crum said.
The Division of Labor and Industry has detailed safety tips for riders and parents of child riders on its website.