What Owner/Operators Should Know About Forming the Right Ride Safety Approach

Authored by Cameron Mease, FS ENG (TÜV Rheinland) Control Systems Architect

As an owner/operator of amusement rides or devices, your number one priority must be to ensure they are safe for the people using, operating, and maintaining them.  How do you determine what inherent risks your ride presents to the public and your employees and whether these risks are acceptable? Many owner/operators rely on an engineer’s advice or their ride vendor to help answer these questions. But what should owner/operators know about forming the right ride safety approach and related decision-making?

People riding on roller coaster hanging vertically against blue skyIt Begins with Active Participation

Safety is a collaboration between you and your ride vendor. Your vendor, as the manufacturer, is often responsible for leading the risk assessment activities for a ride development project.  However, as the owner/operator you must be an active participant in this process. Vendors who underestimate or don’t fully assess hazards put your business at risk. Even when buying a turn-key system with an existing risk assessment, it’s prudent to commission an independent risk evaluation and safety review to ensure all reasonably foreseeable hazards have been identified and will be mitigated in the final installation.

Safety Standards Matter

Owner/operators can gain more confidence in their risk assessment and safety measures if they know what standards were used in their development and the credentials of the individuals performing the work. Organizations such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) have developed standards that apply directly to risk assessment and the safety of machinery.  The standards body, ASTM International, has more than 24 standards that specifically apply to all aspects of amusement rides and devices.  Expertise in functional safety may also be demonstrated by TÜV Functional Safety Engineer certification, which means the individual will have undergone comprehensive coursework, training, and examinations concerning industry safety standards and risk assessment methodology. TÜV Certification is recognized worldwide as a trademark for safety—a means to show that a product, service, or process has been thoroughly tested and meets requirements nationally and internationally. Qualified advisors will have experience directly related to functional safety for amusement ride and devices.

Assessing and Clarify Risk are Crucial

Whether buying an off-the-shelf ride or developing a one-of-a-kind attraction from scratch, a risk assessment is a critical part of the process. A risk assessment identifies unacceptable hazards to people so they can be either eliminated or mitigated to acceptable levels. Risk is classified by analyzing all hazards the system can pose to people and determining the likelihood of the hazard leading to a hazardous event and the significance of the resulting injury. The assessment should also include hazardous situations that can arise from misuse, mistakes, or using poor judgment.

Vaguely defined risk metrics may lead to systems being implemented with unacceptable hazards. For instance, is a hazardous event with “serious” consequences and a “not likely” probability acceptable to your business? Is there enough information presented to make that decision?  “Serious” and “not likely” are qualitative metrics open to subjective interpretation. What if “serious” means death and “not likely” means up to one occurrence within the system’s lifetime?  Hopefully, at this point, you have decided this is not an acceptable hazard, and it must be mitigated. Qualitative definitions need to be well-defined and understood by everyone who is a part of the risk assessment process. Ensure you and your vendor agree on risk classifications before making any decisions related to risk.

Risk Acceptance, Ownership, and Mitigation

There will always be some remaining risks in ride systems. It could be something as simple as someone occasionally tripping while exiting a ride and getting minor cuts.  The risk that could not be eliminated or mitigated is known as residual risk.  By operating with this residual risk, you have accepted this as tolerable for your business and the people operating, maintaining, and riding your ride. While your vendor or trusted partner should be able to inform you of the residual risk, only you, as the owner/operator can define your risk tolerance limits.

One way to define your risk tolerance is by using a risk matrix.  The example below, adapted from a soon-to-be-released ASTM risk assessment standard, shows how you can define your risk metrics and tolerance to risk.

Warning: The following example is for demonstration purposes only. Your organization must determine what your risk tolerance is and what quantifications to use. 

Controls Chart REV1 (002)

Risk Matrix Example

risk matrix example of the probability of occurrence of harm by severity of harm

While risk tolerance needs to be defined by the owner/operator, the right partner will be able to advise on effective risk mitigation. When a hazard has been determined to be unacceptable, the hazard must be designed out of the system or mitigated to an acceptable level by some means. A simple example of designing the hazard out is to eliminate a fall hazard by adding a railing that keeps people from falling. However, some hazards cannot be designed out. For instance, on a roller coaster, a collision between trains is possible since they operate on a single track. In this case, a safety-related control system (SRCS) is responsible for separating the trains, using some combination of programmable controllers, sensors, and brakes.

One method for mitigating risk via SRCS is called functional safety. Functional safety is the mitigation of unacceptable hazards to people via automated protection functions, referred to as safety functions. This is an expansive topic worthy of its own paper; however, the right partner will exhibit experience, judgment, understanding of applicable functional safety standards and hazard assessment methods to help you determine the right systems for your attraction.

Let BRPH Help with Your Guest Safety

With nearly 60 years of experience in building launch pads for America’s space program and more than 20 years in the entertainment market, we know that safety is the most important consideration you can make when opening a new ride or attraction.  As a partner to world-class theme park and attraction clients, including Universal Orlando, Walt Disney World Resorts, SeaWorld, Cedar Fair, and Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, BRPH offers systems engineering and functional safety capabilities. We remain at the forefront of the latest in ride and show technology to ensure thorough understanding of the opportunities and challenges facing owner/operators today. Learn more about BRPH entertainment at: brph.com/entertainment, or contact Cameron Mease or Marc Sherman to start your next consultation.

About the Author

Cameron MeaseCameron Mease is a TÜV-certified functional safety engineer and control systems architect with more than 25 years of experience, including 20 years with The Walt Disney Company. Mease is a leader in designing and building safety-critical systems for attractions that have delighted millions of theme park guests around the globe. His extensive experience in designing, building, and supporting attractions throughout their complete lifecycle provides unique insights that affect long-term reliability as well as safety, ultimately saving clients time and money. Mease’s focus on process improvement through the use of data analytics brings additional value to asset owners by contributing to efficient operations and maintenance. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Aviation Computer Science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and a master’s degree in Information Management Systems from Harvard University.