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Amusement Rides Capture the World’s Attention

... and ASTM Committee F24 Focuses Its Effort to Meet the World’s Standards Need

by James L. Seay

Each day, on average, approximately one million guests visit amusement parks in the United States. Typically, each guest rides six to eight amusement rides, meaning that a total of six to eight million rides will be enjoyed on a daily basis. It is estimated that an equal if not greater number of rides are being experienced daily outside of the United States. Guest safety is the overriding concern on each and every ride, whether it be a 100-mph roller coaster, a spinning tea cup ride, or an air-supported “moon bounce” attraction. Safety is the hallmark of the amusement industry and, statistically, riding on amusement rides is one of the safest forms of entertainment available to the public.

A little over two decades ago industry professionals recognized the growing popularity of amusement rides and decided to work together to establish safety standards that could be used by both the manufacturers and operators of amusement equipment. Industry professionals—which included large theme park representatives, family park owners, carnival and fair operators, ride manufacturers, inspectors, and safety consultants—teamed up with consumer representatives and regulatory officials to establish standards within ASTM Committee F24 on Amusement Rides and Devices. The standards covered areas including design and manufacturing, operations, testing, maintenance, and terminology. The standards, while voluntary, were quickly accepted by not only the industry but also by many states, which adopted–either in part or in whole–ASTM F24 standards as part of their regulations. Each year the committee has met formally on a biannual basis to review the standards and to consider modifications and/or additions.

World Standards Task Group Established

The U.S. amusement industry and its impressive growth can be traced back to the success of Walt Disney in its development of the destination theme park concept back in the 1950s. Shortly after the opening of Disneyland, the concept of regional theme parks was established by Six Flags with Six Flags Over Texas. In the ensuing years the U.S. market expanded greatly to where it is today, a mix of high-end theme parks, family amusement parks, water parks, fairs, carnivals, and family entertainment centers.

The industry as a whole is represented by its trade association, The International Association for Amusement Parks and Attractions or IAAPA. Note the word “International” in IAAPA’s name, for during the last decade there has been explosive growth in the amusement industry occurring all over the world. In some cases the large theme park organizations have expanded their business by establishing U.S. type theme parks throughout the world. But more often local international organizations have developed their own entertainment venues and parks often combining standard ride equipment with their own cultural identity. The expansion of the amusement industry overseas has resulted in a dramatic increase of international members in IAAPA, especially recently. The international members have looked to the trade organization to assist in the establishment of safety standards that can be used on a worldwide basis.

The members understand that for international development to be successful, their facilities—like their counterparts in the United States—must be safe and perceived as such by the public. Recognizing the issue, in 1998 IAAPA made it clear that international standards would be a priority and that an effort was needed to establish standards that would promote safe rides and attractions on a worldwide basis. Members of ASTM F24 met with IAAPA (who it should be noted has representation on ASTM F24) and agreed to the importance of such safety standards. A decision was made by the ASTM F24 main committee to establish the World Standards Task Group on Amusement Rides.

Reasons for the World to Participate—and Ways to Participate, Too

The sound basis for the establishment of any type of world standard is to incorporate input from as many resources as possible beyond the borders of where the standard is being generated. Fortunately the very nature of the ASTM process is to be inclusionary and open. This situation is the opposite of what is typical in other areas of the world where there are standard bodies establishing guidelines for amusement rides. In Europe, for instance, there has been an effort over the past 12 years to establish a standard that would apply to the European Union. While the product of the process has been impressive, the effort has been limited to a very specific group of appointed individuals. The open door policy of the ASTM F24 effort has been a strong inducement for individuals and organizations from around the world to participate both in person and by contributing input through the ballot process.

Another important reason for international interest is that the number of individual states within the United States who are adopting ASTM F24 standards is growing quickly. IAAPA encourages states to adopt F24 standards. Since many of the major states have indeed incorporated the guidelines into law, any international organization that wants to do business here in the United States will most likely have to develop their equipment in accordance with the accepted guidelines. Obviously, if the guidelines are being further developed, it is in the international organizations’ best interest to participate, thereby ensuring that the final result represents a blueprint for the safe production of rides—whether they are designed and built here in the United States or elsewhere in the world.

An additional reason for international participation is the advancement of the technical capabilities offered by ASTM. Besides the fact that with e-mail and instant messaging the world is already getting smaller, the ASTM online standards development system (Internet-Based Standards Development Forums) has allowed participation from virtually anywhere in the world on a real-time basis. The amount of time normally required to get international input and the potential costs associated with the effort have been dramatically reduced.

With all the inducements to participate, the international contributions and commitments to the effort for an F24-created world standard have been unprecedented. The membership of ASTM F24 has soared past 300 and international representation has come from all over with members joining from places like Canada, Italy, Australia, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, and Russia. This fall, the first representative from China will take part in the process. To say the biannual meetings have taken on an international flavor would be an understatement. We are now dealing with basic challenges such as visas and translators and the more unique challenges of gaining an understanding and appreciation of cultural differences.

Hours of Work Worth It

The process has been grueling with literally thousands and thousands of man-hours being used for the effort. Recognizing the important safety implications, many organizations from both the United States and abroad have allowed key individuals to refocus much of their work efforts toward the development of the standards. The process has been a mix of highly focused small task group meetings that take place in between the traditional ASTM F24 biannual gatherings and large, two-day overview meetings during those biannual fall and spring meetings.

The decision was made to focus initially on a design and manufacturing standard and the work has proceeded very well. The task group took the approach of reviewing every available standard throughout the world and comparing each specific section with its counterpart in ASTM F24 standards. In some cases, the existing standard was felt to be the most effective and the present language was left untouched. In other cases, the task group adopted alternative language into the F24 standard that provided clearer intent and direction. A specific effort was made throughout the process to ensure that recognition of equivalent international processes (i.e., welding) was included. Also language was added in the annex and appendix, wherever appropriate, to further clarify the intent of the standards and remove potential gray areas. This summer a significant portion of the new F24 standard on design and manufacturing, intended and ready for international use, will be out for ballot. While the existing effective F24 standard had limited text and relied significantly on reference materials, the new document will include significant detail and valuable appendix and annex supplements. The length of the standard is expected to be well over 100 pages (and keep in mind this is just the design and manufacturing effort). Very soon work will begin on other areas of the existing document such as operations, testing, and maintenance.

The natural process of this F24 world standard effort is creating an effective document that will be well suited for adoption on a worldwide basis. We already have an accepted document that, for many years, has been very valuable to the amusement industry and the general public in the promotion of safe amusement rides and attractions. We now have a document that has incorporated valuable input on a worldwide basis and will provide extensive detail and instruction. And most importantly, we have had an open door policy that has allowed the free exchange of information and ideas and has encouraged healthy discussion on the various subjects.

The adoption of the ASTM F 24 standard on a worldwide basis will be no easy task. Most likely an effort will be made to have countries globally adopt the ASTM F24 standard in whole once the world standards effort is complete. It is vitally important to keep in mind that the basis of everyone’s efforts with regard to the development of world standards for the amusement industry is to firmly maintain safety within the industry. In the final analysis, whichever standards effort produces the safest environment for our guests needs to be embraced by all. On this point we should be passionate. //

Copyright 2001, ASTM

James L. Seay is president of Premier Rides, an industry leader in the design and manufacture of amusement rides and attractions. Educated in mechanical engineering at Cornell University and California State University, Long Beach, Seay's background includes technical assignments at both Hughes Aircraft and Six Flags.