Four years after a carnival ride’s corroded steel arm snapped and flung a high school student to his death at the Ohio State Fair, the state is tightening its oversight of amusement rides.

Inspectors are conducting more mandatory checks for rust and metal fatigue and increasingly flagging rides for repairs during the first year of enforcement under the new regulations.

Some carnival operators say inspectors are overreaching and shutting rides over issues that aren’t immediate safety concerns. A few have pulled out of Ohio’s festival circuit or are considering it because of what they say is uncertainty over how the rules are being enforced.

The 2017 accident at Ohio’s showcase fair that killed Tyler Jarrell, an 18-year-old Marine enlistee, and left four others with life-changing injuries sent shudders through the amusement industry.

The maker of the spinning, swinging Fire Ball ride said years of undetected excessive internal corrosion caused a carriage holding four riders to break apart just hours after a final inspection.

Attorneys for the victims believe the state’s inspectors missed obvious warning signs and also blamed the ride’s operator and maker, though no one was charged.

Ohio, like many other states, gives its ride inspectors immunity from negligence lawsuits. But settlements were reached with the ride’s owner and two private inspection companies while another lawsuit against the manufacturer is still in court.

While the state has long had one of the nation’s more robust ride inspection programs — nine states don’t require any government scrutiny — Ohio lawmakers spent more than a year crafting a plan to increase oversight. Called “Tyler’s Law,” it requires more mandatory inspections for big attractions and makes owners maintain repair and travel records.

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“We will have a history that comes with each ride, whether it be a kiddie ride or a roller coaster,” said Dorothy Pelanda, director of Ohio’s Agriculture Department, which oversees ride inspections.

The head of the state’s amusement ride safety office, David Miran, said the law emphasizes checking a ride’s structural components and that inspectors are told to err on the side of caution.

Carnival owners also must work with ride manufacturers or a certified engineer when repairs are needed and have them sign off on the work — a process that is more expensive and keeps rides out of commission longer, resulting in lost revenue, their operators say.

“It’s out of the ride owners hands in that scenario, and it’s up to the manufacturer who has the deep knowledge of what that ride is and what the ride needs,” said Miran. “Having that other set of eyeballs is huge.”

Because ride owners now are required to make visual inspections before going out on the road, many are making needed modifications before inspectors arrive, Miran said.

Ride owners say they’re all for safety and don’t mind added scrutiny, but some rides have been shut down for things they think don’t compromise safety such as surface rust on handrails and on transport trailers.

Frank Welsh, a member of the Ohio Advisory Council on Amusement Ride Safety, a …read more

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