Officials call for better way to inspect amusement parks
August 24, 2013 4:00 AM
The Sky Rocket ride at Kennywood.
By Emily DeMarco PublicSource
Pennsylvania officials said this week that the agency that regulates amusement parks must develop a better system to track the inspection reports that parks are required to file.
A PublicSource investigation recently found that the Department of Agriculture's amusement park regulatory office did not have all of the inspection reports for more than half of the state's permanent parks and water parks in 2012.
"It is troubling," Eugene DePasquale, Pennsylvania's auditor general, said in a phone interview. The auditor general is responsible for ensuring that tax dollars are spent appropriately and that agencies are performing their jobs.
"In a scary way, your work was a huge wake-up call, hopefully, to get them to start to do their job," he said. "At a minimum, we don't have all of the reports."
The department is supposed to make sure that every park is submitting them, he said. And the department isn't even reviewing the ones they have, he said.
The Post-Gazette is a news partner of PUBLICSOURCE, a nonprofit investigative news group in Western Pennsylvania. Learn more at publicsource.org
Mr. DePasquale said it's unnecessary to audit the department right now because the work has already been done. Instead, he is advocating for the department to fix the problem.
"They need to be working diligently, immediately," he said.
State Rep. John Maher, R-Upper St. Clair, majority chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture and Rural Affairs, said he will hold hearings in the fall for department officials to testify about their performance.
"We have a commitment from them," he said.
But he said changes within the department are already underway.
Mr. Maher said department officials told him they plan to modify the existing database to track whether parks are complying with the requirement to file inspection reports.
The department plans to create an online database that is similar to food-safety inspections so they can be searched by the public, he said.
Twelve amusement parks had no 2012 inspection reports on file with the regulatory agency, according to records provided to PublicSource in response to a Right-To-Know request.
When Walter Remmert, the bureau's director, was asked about parks that had not filed all of their inspection reports, he said he did not know about them until reporters told him.
Gov. Tom Corbett declined through a spokeswoman to comment for this story. He has made public announcements about the superiority of the state's ride safety-inspection program.
Amusement park rides must be inspected daily and the logs kept on site. Monthly inspection reports completed by state-certified inspectors must be filed with the bureau every 30 days while the parks are open. The reports must be filed within 48 hours of completion.
State Sen. Judith Schwank, D-Berks, said in a telephone interview that she, too, was concerned after reading the PublicSource story.
"The safety and lives of the thousands of residents and tourists who visit our amusement parks cannot be put at risk," she wrote to George Greig, the Agriculture Department's secretary. Ms. Schwank provided the letter to PublicSource.
Ms. Schwank is minority chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Rural Affairs.
Mr. Greig, who has been secretary of the department since 2011, was unavailable to comment this week, said Samantha Krepps, the department's spokeswoman.
"We are looking into the analysis of the record keeping for the amusement ride safety program," Ms. Krepps said. "If there are inconsistencies, we will find them. We will look into this."
The department stands by its statement that Pennsylvania has one of the top amusement-ride safety programs in the nation, she said.
She did not say how long it would take to analyze their record-keeping methods, but that it is a priority.
In 2009, there were seven state inspectors to police the thousands of amusement rides that are registered in Pennsylvania. Today, there are four. The enforcement agency's staff was reduced because of budget cuts.
But Mr. DePasquale said that if they can't keep up with the number of inspectors they have, "they should've advocated to the Legislature for the resources so that they can do their job," he said.