My workday starts by reading industry news round-ups and our google alerts to track what’s happening in our world.
Sometimes my heart sinks because I read about an accident on a ride and my empathy – as a mum – kicks in, especially if I read about injured children or parents.
It’s worse somehow when a place created for the purpose of joy suffers a tragedy. I don’t think my somewhat emotional reaction is unusual – at WhiteWater we all take our responsibility very seriously. We love that we bring families together and we know their safety is also in our hands. Each of our designers and engineers knows that keeping people safe is our number one priority, while still offering a fun, and at times thrilling, ride experience.
Keeping that balance between thrilling rides and safety should be the top of every park and manufacturer’s mind, but is it something we talk about enough as an industry? I feel safety becomes part of the industry narrative more when an accident hits the press. We need our efforts in safety to be more visible at all times, not just when there is an issue to address.
Accidents do happen and we need to be prepared. That means proactively managing risks related to rider behaviour, maintenance procedures, operational training, or design.
Safer slides by design:
Waterslides are much more technical than they look. Consider that in a rollercoaster, the rider is in a restraint in a vehicle on a fixed path. For a waterslide, a rider is in vehicle that can vary in inflation, weight and water flow, and the operator relies on the behaviour of the rider to maintain the right body position. Both people and water behave dynamically so we have to be exacting in our design methodology.
WhiteWater design so that all of our rides meet geographic AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) requirements – the recognised international standard – as well as our own strict internal design guidelines. This includes taking into account factors such as g-force, rider/vehicle dynamics, and the rider envelope.
Every new ride goes through an internal review process, which includes ride validation to pass tolerance criteria in order to meet our internal safety standards. This ensures the best combination of safety with fun and excitement.
“There isn’t a school that teaches a course in this, “ says chief waterslide designer, Bruce Bradley. “Experience is of supreme importance. You need that knowledge-base to properly design in the fun and avoid the risks.”
To validate that the ride works and meets our intended design for safety and fun, we test it through our proprietary simulation system. Our team developed this software internally over a decade ago and have been feeding data from the hundreds of attractions we install every year, which makes the system a valued tool with a fidelity that allows us to manufacture and install rides with confidence.
We don’t stop at the ride path. We’re also exacting in our approach to structural engineering. We insist on custom-designing every ride for its site, where we take into consideration the soil, topography, and wind/seismic/weather conditions.
For example, the waterslide tower for Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day Island 135ft (41.1m) was designed to withstand winds of up to 180mph and shortly after opening, it survived the category five Hurricane Dorian unscathed, coming back into operation the following weekend.
Our simulation results are carefully calibrated on-site during the commissioning process. We do this to make sure the ride is performing as designed and provide guidance for adjustments that can be made by our expert installation supervisors.
This is when final water-flows are set through testing, first with surrogates and finally with riders of different weights and raft combinations. Final commissioning documentation, including the operator’s manual, is provided, with an orientation to hand the ride over to the client. This sets the stage for operators to coordinate their internal testing and any AHJ inspections, ready for public operation.
Influencing rider behaviour
A focus on staff is important because they’re the safety front-line, managing a major risk you face: rider behaviour. Riders don’t always behave as requested. They don’t hold on, they don’t stay in raft positions – worst of all, they jump out. But to manage your liability, it’s important that you can prove your staff were attentive and trained to instruct riders. Good signage and entrance waivers also help make sure you’ve clearly informed riders of the expected safety behaviours.
Importance of safe surfacing
People running and slipping or falling in water is the number one cause of waterpark injuries, which is why WhiteWater’s safety commitment has extended to an exclusive distribution agreement with LifeFloor – the only aquatic flooring to meet the newly launched NSF50 flooring safety standard in the US.
This foam-rubber flooring system has a rippled, textured surface that provides traction when wet and a nonabrasive impact absorbing surface if someone does fall, so kids can run and jump as they play in water.
Safety is part of our DNA
Safety is a cultural factor, not a box to tick. It really matters to us at WhiteWater.
We want you to choose WhiteWater products, but most of all, we want guests to be safe, because accidents erode consumer confidence across the whole visitor attractions industry.
So, when considering new rides, please ask tough questions of your suppliers and make sure they can show clear evidence to support their safety claims; you don’t ever want to be in a position where you find out too late that they don’t.