MONTPELIER, Vt. — Vermont has no direct safety oversight of the rides at the fairs, carnivals and field days held across the state every summer and fall, and efforts to require such oversight have gone nowhere, officials said.
The state does require amusement ride operators to register with the Secretary of State, show proof of insurance and have workers’ compensation insurance for their employees, but unlike most states, no safety inspections of the rides are required.
“I’ve always had a fear of some kind of accident,” said Republican state Rep. Richard Lawrence, who is also the president of the Caledonia County Fair in Lyndon who has tried for years to get the Legislature to pass a law requiring ride safety inspection.
He said those efforts have failed both because of a lack of a funding source to pay for any inspections and no state agency has been willing to provide inspectors.
The issue came into focus after a rider was killed Wednesday at a fair in Ohio. The same company is now operating rides, without any problems, at the Green Mountain Fair in Manchester.
It’s been years, if not decades, since there has been a serious accident of a customer on a ride at a Vermont fair. Lawrence said he’d been involved with the Caledonia fair since the mid-1980s and he can’t remember any, although there have been accidents involving fair employees.
The issue for many of the small fairs, which are already operating on a thin margin, is cost, Lawrence said. And his efforts in the Legislature to require fair ride inspection have failed both because of a lack of a funding source to pay for any inspections and no state agency has been willing to provide inspectors.
Different states handle ride inspections differently, said Bob Johnson, the president of the Florida-based Outdoor Amusement Business Association, a national trade association. Some states will have inspectors while others will require third-party inspection. A handful of states don’t have any requirements.
He said the ride operators use daily safety checklists and they do regular safety checks.
“First and foremost the onus is on the ride owner, OK?” Johnson said Friday. “Safety has to be first and foremost when it comes to guests riding their rides or their attractions.”
In Vermont, there are 14 fairs and field days. Different fairs have different policies about ride inspections, Lawrence said.
Chris Ashby of the Champlain Valley Exposition, where the state’s largest fair, the Champlain Valley Fair, is held at the end of the summer every year, said the fair hires independent inspectors to ensure ride safety.
“It’s a comfort level for us, it’s not mandated by the state,” Ashby said.
Lawrence said the Caledonia County Fair relies on the ride operator, which uses a certified inspector, to check its own rides.
“Is that good enough, no? Is it a step?” Lawrence said. “It’s the best that we can provide at this point.”