From Carousel to Coaster
F24 and Amusement Ride Standards: Committee Promotes Safety Internationally
Seniors reminisce on a ferris wheel rotating high above a seaside boardwalk. Toddlers squeal with delight during their first solo turn on a miniature ride. Teens chase an adrenaline rush as they conquer a top-speed roller coaster.
Young, old, tiny and tall, generation after generation around the world has turned to amusement parks, carnivals and other festive locations for a break from the ordinary, a vacation respite and family fun.
Thanks to the almost 500 members comprising ASTM International Committee F24 on Amusement Rides and Devices, they’re able to enjoy those moments of exhilaration safely, return to challenge the next biggest, fastest, scariest ride… or savor a few minutes with a painted pony on an old-time carousel.
30 Years of Service
Founded 30 years ago, Committee F24 and its work reach across the United States and around the world, helping to ensure that customers only need to worry about lines, tickets and whether that last cotton candy really was a good idea. While riders are intent on fun, Committee F24 members are determined that the fun doesn’t come at an unexpected price. Their work, far behind the scenes of the colorful amusement world, literally can be a matter of life and death.
Committee F24 Chair James Seay, president and owner of Premier Rides Inc., Millersville, Md., a designer and fabricator of high-tech theme park attractions, says, “F24’s role is to provide
“The mission of Committee F24 is to improve safety for amusement rides and devices all over the world,” adds Leonard Morrissey, Committee F24 staff manager. “The members’ job is to set the ‘gold standard’."
Serious About Fun
Committee F24, which includes designers, engineers, lawyers, consumer advocates and state regulators, has nine subcommittees that have developed 17 standards.
The subcommittees include F24.10 on Test Methods, F24.20 on Specifications and Terminology, F24.24 on Design and Manufacture, F24.30 on Maintenance and Inspection, F24.40 on Operations, F24.60 on Special Rides/Attractions, F24.70 on Water Related Amusement Rides and Devices, and F24.80 on Harmonization.
The standards address such topics as minimum manufacturing requirements for amusement rides and devices; basic tests to perform during development and installation, after major modifications and during normal operation; maintenance of amusement rides and devices; and practices for the design, manufacture and operation of concession go-karts and inflatable amusement devices. They cover rides and devices from world-class roller coasters to bumper boats, seat restraints to hydraulics.
Committee F24 also has eight proposed standards in the works that focus on such topics as the design and manufacture of netting/mesh in children’s play areas and climbing walls.
Perhaps no existing standard is as critical as F2291, Practice for Design of Amusement Rides and Devices, referred to as the “world standard,” which sets the design criteria for amusement rides and devices and major modifications to them. How fast a ride accelerates, how steeply it drops, how emergency devices respond — all these and many more details are addressed by F2291.
Spanning the Globe
Before Committee F24 was formed in 1978, the industry applied best practices, Morrissey says. “There really wasn’t much oversight except through local jurisdictions.”
Today, while other standards-setting groups exist worldwide, Committee F24 is the major body in the U.S., according to Morrissey. More than 40 of the 50 states have regulations that govern amusement rides, and most mandate or suggest Committee F24 standards be employed. The standards also are used from Australia to Dubai, Europe to Shanghai.
Who applies the standards? According to Morrissey, there are two major areas in the amusement family: fixed rides and portable rides. The big names — think Busch Gardens and Six Flags — adhere to F24 standards, as do the mom-and-pop companies and traveling operations that hit small towns for three-night stays.
Bridging All Parts of the Business
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Space Mountain. It’s a Small World. No amusement industry name is more recognized around the globe than Disney.
According to Greg Hale, chief safety officer for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Disney has been involved with F24 for most of the committee’s 30 years.
“The F24 standards are integral to our work and are the core of our Disney standards,” says Hale.
Hale notes that utilizing Committee F24 standards is not just good for the safety of the industry, it’s good for business as well. “Before, every amusement ride designer had to do (his or her) own research. With the inception of F24, people in the business could take advantage of 30 years of technical expertise and standards developed by professionals who represent hundreds of years’ worth of engineering experience. This is an invaluable resource to governments just getting into the amusement industry, new ride manufacturers or operators looking to build a theme park.”
And it’s far from just Disney-size corporations that benefit from Committee F24. Robert Johnson, president of the Outdoor Amusement Business Association, Winter Park, Fla., a trade association whose membership includes carnivals, circuses, independent ride owners and others associated with the mobile amusement industry, sees value for all members of the niches he serves.
“ASTM is important to the mobile amusement ride industry as many states that oversee ride regulations, inspection and permitting are utilizing ASTM-pertinent standards for inspection, operation and maintenance of rides and devices. It’s also important as our owners who purchase these rides and devices must be assured by the manufacturer that they adhere to ASTM manufacture and design standards,” says Johnson, a 14-year member of Committee F24. “We rely on ASTM and tout these standards to our fairs, festivals, the media and others from a public safety standpoint, which gives them an additional assurance that this industry places the highest level of attention and concern on ride and device safety of guests.”
On the Road
Jerry Aldrich, general manager of Amusement Industry Consulting, Orlando, Fla., and an F24 member for more than a dozen years, sees the benefits of F24 standards virtually every day, whether he’s working with fixed parks, carnivals or other operations. He says, “It gives us the road map to know how to do the things and how to put together a program that can be quantified.”
That “road map” bridges geography, culture, language and fields of expertise. For instance, Aldrich says, in the past, American park owners could have trouble maintaining apparatus purchased from overseas manufacturers. Today, thanks to a more global adherence to F24 standards, they can be confident when they buy rides produced in Korea or parts from the Netherlands. And, even the less obvious components — like instructions — have vastly improved. “The manuals are very easy to understand now, and we wind up with very good documentation for the maintenance people, for the operators,” Aldrich says.
Like Aldrich, Brian King, president of Recreation Engineering, Inc., a. ride testing and inspection firm in Prescott, Ariz., applies the standards almost daily, sometimes with dramatic results.
In the 1990s, a prominent East Coast marketing group was developing an amusement ride as part of a promotion for a client and hired King’s firm. “After we applied the ASTM standards and adhered to those standards, the whole project was cancelled. I’m sure we saved people’s lives. The ride would have fallen down on people, I can guarantee it.”
Hale and others acknowledge that the amusement business is fiercely competitive.
But competition, differences and rivalries all get left at the door when Committee F24 members meet twice a year to hammer out changes to existing standards or develop new ones. When members discuss their committee work, they use words like “passion.” When they talk about their colleagues, it is with respect. Their mantra, the topic that surfaces over and over, is safety.
“When it comes to safety, this is a forum in which we all work together,” says Hale, who, among other roles, is the chairman of the Safety and Maintenance Committee of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.
Adds King, “If there is an accident anywhere in our industry, all of us are affected.”
Cooperation has many faces in Committee F24, including a critical new subcommittee on harmonization.
Hale, who chairs Subcommittee F24.80 on Harmonization, said that part of the group’s aim is to ensure standards are available to countries that may not have the expertise or resources to develop their own standards and yet are enjoying an amusement boom.
After several recent accidents in Thailand, F24 representatives met with the Thai embassy staff in Washington, D.C., to educate them about ASTM standards. “Instead of starting from scratch, they can build on what we have,” Morrissey says.
The subcommittee also has started directing its efforts in special ways to countries that, while highly advanced, still can benefit from Committee F24’s expertise. The harmonization subcommittee currently is working on a prototype with Canada, which has had its own standards for years and has been represented on F24.
“At the request of the Canadian government, we’re creating one standard for Canada within F24 that will pull in all the F24 standards while spelling out specific standards for Canada, such as Canadian electrical codes,” says Hale, who notes that the move will reduce that country’s administrative load in maintaining its own amusement ride standards. “That could become a model for other countries that have a particular need to add references to their own standards to be able to adopt the F24 standards for their country.”
Seay says that an increasing number of countries around the globe are expressing a heightened need to assure safety through regulation. ASTM works to establish standards that can serve as a baseline for all countries. Committee F24, he says, is in the best position to maintain those standards, with the most efficient balloting process in the world.
Committee F24 standards are always evolving. The committee frequently updates standards, making changes governed by outside factors or flux within the amusement industry itself.
The chair of Subcommittee F24.10 on Test Methods, Roger Berry, in charge of technical sales for Montoursville, Pa.-based R.S. Alberts Co., a custom molder of foam goods such as restraints and seats, says, “During different periods of time in this industry, circumstances demand a standard that will create a common language which everyone can understand and comply.”
A case in point occurred in 1996, when the federal government eliminated Freon as a blowing agent in foam goods because of environmental concerns. The foam industry developed a new product — water-blown foam — as a substitute to ensure softness of amusement ride components. This material change made obsolete the prior instrument and method of determining foam softness, the durometer.
“In the absence of an instrument to define softness, F24 stepped up and developed an instrument and standard to measure all the types of foam developed, including composites,” says Berry. “That’s really what ASTM is all about: as the world changes, the methods of manufacturing change, materials of manufacturing change, niches open, ASTM dives in.”
Appreciating the Value
Perhaps few people can appreciate the importance of Committee F24’s work in the same manner as Kathy Fackler. Fackler is founder and president of La Jolla, California-based Saferparks, a nonprofit organization that works to prevent amusement ride injuries through research, information sharing and advocacy. She’s an eight-year member of Committee F24 whose family was touched by the ride safety issue when her son was injured in a roller coaster accident a decade ago.
“For me to be there, bringing the moms’ and consumers’ point of view to the table, makes for a richer environment,” says Fackler. “Overall, everybody has a stake in this. Consumers don’t know there’s a Committee F24, but they definitely benefit from the standards that are produced and the collaboration that goes on in this group.”
That collaboration has been going on for 30 years, with international experts including — but far from limited to — top engineers in cutting-edge fields such as biodynamics contributing to Committee F24’s work. The committee expects to see that input continue and grow.
“Our standards are the most advanced in part because of our focus on state-of-the-art technology that reflects issues such as g-forces and acceleration that no other standards out there address, and our vigilance in reviewing and revising standards every five years or sooner,” says Morrissey. “Committee F24 also is the leader in this area because we are open to membership and input from anywhere in the world, from all segments of the amusement community.”
Patricia Quigley is an award-winning journalist and public relations practitioner who has written for local, regional, national and international publications. She resides in southern New Jersey, where she earned a B.A. in communication and M.A. in writing from Rowan University.