By Dimithri Wijesinghe and Chenelle Fernando
Last Monday, a tragic accident that took place in a theme park situated in Veyangoda resulted in the death of two persons – a mother and her 13-year-old daughter. The deaths were reportedly caused by faulty equipment, where a bucket seat of a ferris wheel collapsed.
When penning this story, six individuals including the owner, manager, and technicians of the theme park in question have reportedly been arrested. However, the question remains how such an incident came to be in the first place.
Globally, amusement park standards are set by the ASTM International F-24 Committee on Amusement Rides and Devices, as is provided by IAAPA, the Global Association for the attraction industry.
ASTM International, formerly known as American Society for Testing and Materials, is an international standards organisation that develops and publishes voluntary consensus technical standards.
As for the Asia Pacific region, IAAPA standards are adopted in Hong Kong and Singapore; Singapore provides a comprehensive look into the safety standards imposed by the country’s Building and Construction Authority via the Amusement Rides Safety Act (Chapter 6A).
To ensure safety, the Act provides;
. All amusement rides will be required to be assessed and certified by a qualified person (QP), who is a registered specialist professional engineer.
. Statutory duties and liabilities will befall holder of operating permit, QP, and ride manger to ensure proper accountability.
. To ensure compliance to safety requirements, permits are to be issued in the life cycle of an amusement ride – Installation and modification permit, and Operating permit.
The case in Sri Lanka
Most countries including Sri Lanka do not have such a comprehensive and specific body of law or authority employed to ensure safety and maintenance of amusement parks. However, establishments have safety measures which they adopt in order to safeguard their customers.
The Urban Development Authority (Gampaha), the Gampaha Municipal Council, and the Minuwangoda Urban Council told The Sunday Morning Brunch that incidents regarding mishaps that occur in private institutions don’t fall under their purview. According to Attorney-at-Law Premnath C. Dolawatte, to begin with, public authorities are responsible for granting permits to these institutions for the purpose of carrying out their business activities. “They have public health Inspectors and technical inspectors, so I believe they must place special focus on children’s parks such as this.”
He furthered that events of such nature could be attributed to section 298 of the Penal Code, “culpable homicide not amounting to murder”. The section reads: “Whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both.”
Moreover, he added that the victims will be able to hold those responsible liable under the above section.
“They charge people a fee for the mere purpose of providing a thrilling and exhilarating experience; hence, it is only natural for one to expect park owners to be greatly responsible from their side.”
We tried getting in touch with the amusement park in concern in Veyangoda, but they were unresponsive.
Here’s what some of Sri Lanka’s more prominent amusement park representatives had to say about their policy with regard to safety.
According to Leisure World Maintenance Engineer Duminda Lasantha, the park operates in relation to three seasons and thorough check-ups of all machines are carried out during the off season. Nevertheless, we learnt that they carry out certain examinations monthly, every six months, and yearly.
As per the machines that are used, we were told that they bring down standard machines that are put into use, after they are considered safe and good to go.
“In the maintenance of gear boxes, we do periodic examinations. The manufacturers of the rides have provided us with the details on the maintenance of some of the rides and aquatic rides,” he said.
He further stated that inspection happens according to a checklist on the daily. He also informed us that children are prohibited from certain rides that are likely to be dangerous to them, stating: “We have a ride called The Maverick, and children below the age of 12 aren’t allowed on this ride.”
Apart from this, they pay attention to the physique of their guests as well, considering the fact that certain individuals might be unfit to go on particular rides that would put their health and safety at risk.
Whilst they constantly urge their guests to adhere to safety rules like being equipped with the appropriate gear at all times, unfortunately, certain individuals, especially the youth, tend to stray away from complying with safety rules and regulations. Due to such unruly behaviour, certain individuals actually end up injuring themselves. “When we direct them to do or not to do certain things, they don’t listen. Although the majority does in fact comply, the ones that are uncontrollable will be given a refund and sent from the premises.”
Leisure World maintains a liquor-free environment, hence not only are individuals required to stay sober on the rides, but the management goes as far as prohibiting the consumption or carrying liquor into the premises. Additionally, patients suffering from heart conditions will not be allowed to go on rides. “We don’t check whether each and every patient is a heart patient, but we’ve made it a point to make them aware of this aspect at the start, before they get on any rides.”
Renowned for its bowling alley, pool parlour, gaming zone, kids’ adventure area, and the bar area (Keg), Excel World is sure to have something for everyone.
According to Sales and Marketing Executive V. Wigkneshvaran, in relation to the bowling section, they ensure all participants are provided with the appropriate gear, including the shoes. The kids’ adventure park, which has around seven rides, is equipped with safety systems such as safety belts installed in them, and the games are changed every ten minutes with a supervisor in the vicinity at all times.
Considering the fact that alcohol is served within its premises, he provided that those who are under the influence will not be allowed in other sections of the park, such as the bowling alley or pool parlour.
He further provided that since Excel World’s adventure arena is built for kids, the rides don’t go too high above the ground. That being said, the maintenance team is present to ensure all rides are kept intact during running time.
One cannot be too careful
Despite these safety precautions, however, mistakes can happen and something can easily slip through the cracks. If you look at the recent past, there are several fatal amusement park accidents that were earlier conceived as impossibilities.
A most shocking example the Verrückt waterslide in Kansas City, the world’s tallest waterslide, which is now disassembled due to the death of a 10-year-old boy who died from a neck injury.
In Six Flags Over Texas, the ride which is said to be the “world’s steepest drop” resulted in the death of a woman who fell from the rollercoaster due to not being properly secured for the ride. This was even after she had expressed her concern over how she was strapped into the ride.Both aforementioned incidents took place in 2016.
The takeaway from these incidents is that you cannot be too careful; there’s a responsibility on both ends to ensure one’s safety, and you mustn’t throw caution to the wind.
Thoughts of the public
The following are several comments made by members of the public with regard to their experiences and understanding of the nature of safety measures in amusement parks in Sri Lanka and/or elsewhere.
A common element that you may note here is that the staff that is employed in Lankan amusement parks is simply manpower and are not qualified professionals, and most customers feel this glaring unavailability of true technical support, with many expressing the need for a dedicated and transparent governing body for the purpose of safety.
“When I first heard of the Veyangoda incident, my first thought was of those ferris wheels we have in pop-up carnivals. I’ve seen these rides operated by hand, by a single person haphazardly holding the ride together while people are set on a contraption several feet above the ground. These types of temporary structures run by persons who disappear until the next carnival are risky and clearly not safety-assured. I think now that the incident has brought this discussion to the forefront, we shouldn’t wait till another similar incident takes place, and we should act on it now to establish a governing body to minimise the possibility of similar accidents” – Malithi Alahapperuma
“What I’ve felt from my experience is that the people who are entrusted with the operations of the rides in local theme parks are simply manpower; they are not qualified persons and do not have an understanding of the mechanisms, and therefore, are unsure of how to deal with any complications. What I can recall from my experience is that the equipment felt old – almost dilapidated. There should be a requirement for a safety crew, a medical professional, and a registered technician on site to handle any issues that may rise” – Chiranthaka Palugasweva
“When it comes to foreign theme parks, the quality of the place is pretty consistent, which is reflected by the overall safety procedures of the place, and on top of that, they try to take every precaution possible when it comes to health-related issues. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, is passable in terms of safety, but nothing amazing. Most of the staff members, at times, have no idea of what they’re doing or the necessary safety procedures when it comes to a rig.
Health-wise, I guess the food’s fine, but when it comes to their pools and similar things, you end up thinking twice before getting in. They shouldn’t have a state-funded governing body, because the market here is way too small for something like the IAAPA, but the government can have a minimum requirement for the parks to adhere to, including routine checks while also holding the theme park itself liable for any damages caused to individuals – that should be mandatory” Dananjaya Bandara
“From my experience, foreign rides like Six Flags have more rides than the entire number of amusement parks here. There are like two or three major amusement parks in Sri Lanka, such as Leisure World and Excel World. They don’t really offer rides that are all that big, and I think the tickets are way overpriced here. I wouldn’t really trust their health and safety either, because most people who work here don’t really care. Also, the food scene in parks here is all that hygienic” – Manusha Perera
“The differences I’ve noted when comparing Sri Lankan theme parks to those abroad is that the employed staff tends to accompany us in the park rides, which instils a sense of safety in us. They are usually friendly and helpful, and knowledgeable enough to address concerns. In Sri Lanka, I think this is lacked, and I feel that there is a need for an authority to overlook the safety precautions adopted by these establishments” – Danajaya Perera