News of the tragic death of an 11-year-old girl on a rapids ride at Drayton Manor Park has shocked an industry that is still reeling from the death of four people on a similar type of ride in Australia in October.
While both accidents are being investigated, it’s wrong to jump to conclusions about causes, but we know that things must change as a result. Clearly, the risk factor is too high.
Any ride involving ballistic movement or momentum creates forces which – if they are deflected – can cause a catapult effect, hurling riders in ways they find impossible to control. Add water, heavy machinery and people into the equation and another whole set of challenges emerges.
The time has come for such rides – if we continue to install them – to have seat belts or harnesses to avoid accidents occurring which relate to user behaviour. The investigation into the Australian accident, in which the raft tipped, must additionally lead to the introduction of design features which act to prevent that happening again.
This industry has worked hard to improve rider responsibility, and it’s very sensible and valid to encourage guests to follow guidelines while enjoying rides. However, we cannot harness our fortunes – and people’s lives – to the hope that riders will always behave exactly as we would have them do.
If theme parks are going to continue to thrive as an industry sector, then we need to step things up to a new level when it comes to all aspects of safety, from staff training to supervision, from ride design and specification to manufacturing and from ride maintenance to safety checks.
In the days before the internet and social media, some theme park accidents were hushed up. Compensation paid, the ride quietly dismantled and sold to another park on the other side of the world to be rebranded, and then the case closed.
Perhaps a health and safety investigation some time later would throw up a fine and a small flurry of newspaper coverage, but few accidents seriously impacted the business. It was a dark time in the history of our industry.
Today, fortunately, the world has moved on, and this kind of shadowy practice is no longer possible in most countries, nor deemed acceptable by anyone. The industry has grown up and in most places safety inspections and training are now transparent and professionally managed.
And yet as we have seen this May, there is still important work to do to achieve the level of safety which we as an industry and our customers expect.
People’s tolerance of risk has reached a point where any level is deemed totally unacceptable by the public. They want assurances that their time at attractions will be 100 per cent safe. That their children will be safe, no matter what.
So this is what we must make happen. We’re in the era of zero risk, when nothing else will do. It’s not acceptable for there to be any preventable accidents in theme parks.
And if we don’t step up and improve, then our customers will leave in droves and our businesses will fail, and rightly so. If we can’t keep our customers safe, we don’t deserve them.
Liz Terry, editor. Twitter: @elizterry