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Ever wonder how safe the rides are at the county fair? New York state officials say they’re on it

New York State Labor Commissioner Rebecca Reardon speaks Tuesday, July 18, 2023, at the opening of the Saratoga County Fair. Reardon outlined measures taken to ensure rides at fairs, carnivals and amusement parks are safe.
Karen DeWitt
/
New York State Public Radio
New York State Labor Commissioner Rebecca Reardon speaks Tuesday, July 18, 2023, at the opening of the Saratoga County Fair. Reardon outlined measures taken to ensure rides at fairs, carnivals and amusement parks are safe.

With county fairs beginning their runs across New York, the state’s labor department said they are dispatching inspectors to make sure all of the rides on the midway are safe.

Labor Commissioner Rebecca Reardon and other officials appeared at Tuesday’s opening of the Saratoga County Fair to reassure the public that the rides are closely monitored.

Reardon said this summer, as usual, state inspectors are checking all the rides at fairs, amusement parks and carnivals, and none of them are allowed to operate without a permit.

“Last year alone, they inspected over 7,000 rides statewide, leaving no stone unturned to ensure that everyone is in compliance with rigorous safety inspections,” Reardon said.

Those rides include a circle of glittering, revolving miniature tractors, designed for some of the youngest fair visitors. As the song “Old McDonald Had a Farm” played from speakers above, a folksy-sounding narrator reminded passengers to “remain seated for the whole ride.”

“And remember, boys and girls, you must keep your arms and legs inside,” he said.

Kelly House is the safety supervisor for Amusements of America, which owns and operates many of the rides offered here. She said she’s always eyeing the rides for potential hazards, like making sure the path to the little tractors is clear.

“Your very first thing is going to be trip hazards in and off the ride,” House said. “Dealing with little kids, they come through that gate, they want to run, they're excited.”

She said she also makes sure the safety restraints are all available and working. Everyone is required to wear a seat belt.

New York State Labor Department inspector Brian DeStefanis examines the safety belts on a miniature tractor ride at the Saratoga County fairgrounds on July 18, 2023.
Karen DeWitt
/
New York State Public Radio
New York State Labor Department inspector Brian DeStefanis examines the safety belts on a miniature tractor ride at the Saratoga County fairgrounds on July 18, 2023.

House works closely with labor department inspectors, including Brian DeStefanis, who jumped on a ride’s platform Tuesday to demonstrate how it’s inspected.

“Generally, I'm looking for signs of wear, tear, broken parts, modifications maybe that weren't part of the original manufacturer's manual,” he said.

Bending down, he lifted the tarp over the ride’s mechanical center to make sure that the torque values on the nuts and bolts are correct, and that the moving parts have been oiled properly. He said he also looks to make sure that the ride is level, is operating at the right speed and is free from any potential electrical hazards, especially during this rainier-than-average summer.

“All the while, I'm looking at the condition of any electrical or hydraulic wires and components,” he said. “I want to see that that's rated for the load capacity that this ride is going to operate at. And it's rated for the type of conditions, potential wet locations like the carnival fairgrounds might have.”

DeStefanis said he also looks for documents proving the operator has at least $1 million of liability insurance. The operator also must have documents showing they comply with workers compensation and disability insurance rules, as well as maintenance logs and proof of operator training.

He said he or another inspector will come back, unannounced, more than once during the time that the fair is operating.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.