Let’s have a rant about theme park safety.

Today’s events are starting to become not a rare occurrence that I roll my eyes at but an almost weekly game of how hard can I hit my head against the desk.

Yet today’s another day where I open up Facebook and see a clickbait story that’s popped up on my  feed about something routine happening at a theme park. Thing is though, for those uneducated on just how safe modern thrill rides are, it’s easy to open up something from the Gold Coast Bulletin or MyGC and be shocked by yet another “Movie World’s rides are super dangerous” type of article. Now, i’m not against either publication persay, but if there’s two things that grind my gears more then anything else on planet earth it’s:

  1. Journalism with a clear bias.
  2. Using someone else’s content (like, oh, I dunno, mine for example) without attribution or permission to spread said content.

But, here we are in 2016, where almost every single human being has access to the world’s entirety of knowledge and education in their palm of their hands via the wonder that is the internet and articles like this still pop up that not only spread a clear mistruth but use someone else’s content without consent to do so. Grrrr.

Before I keep going, let’s actually look at what’s wrong here and take a quick step back in time. Roller-coasters in terms of safety are a lot like aeroplanes. When they first started becoming a lot more common, refining their design, engineering and what worked was almost 100% trial and error. Despite this, over decades of refinement we’ve come to a point in both industries where you’re more likely to die making your breakfast or getting there by car then actually falling out of the sky (a saying that rings true for both industries). In fact, statistically speaking, you’re nearly 18 times more likely to die at the hands of a bread-wielding toaster, or nearly 11 times more likely to die folding a deck chair after a snooze then on a ride at your local amusement park.

Hold up, isn't that an OurWorlds photo?
Hold up, isn’t that an OurWorlds photo?

How is this possible? First some truths. At this point in thrill ride design, manufacturers have a solid understanding of when parts require replacement and what bits could fail. But before that even happens, let’s first understand that parks don’t even build their own rides anymore. By and large, they purchase them from internationally respected engineering firms who have backgrounds in mundane yet everyday areas like transportation and even bridge building. These firms don’t muck about, these attractions are riddled with safety protocols and counter-measures that would make any over-zealous, government O&HS pencil pusher drool. Things like dual computer systems that talk to every single sensor on the ride, and, when they don’t agree on where a train is, they shut the whole ride down. Things like multiple redundancies on harnesses (like two sets of hydraulic pistons keeping your lap bar in place) so there’s an unfathomably tiny chance that you’ll fall out. Things like brakes that only work when there’s electricity. Things like daily maintenance checklists, where on some days, engineers literally walk track, visually inspect every nut and bolt and even run their hands up against thousands of metres of steel cable, checking for imperfections. When you consider how many hundreds of moving parts there are, how many thousands of guests these rides churn through every hour, seven hours a day, seven days a week, it’s then you’ll start to realise that in the world of taking no chances, it’s better that a ride like Green Lantern and it’s array of automatic safety systems pro-actively stops the ride temporarily, even if it’s just a bird sitting on a sensory, then pummelling onwards into a risky situation.

I could go on, but you get the idea. And let’s not beat around the bush here, just like the aviation business, having a single fatality, let alone an injury could permanently damage, if not destroy a brand in a heartbeat. Theme parks are prepared to spend millions on making sure every mis-step is avoided, so that even when something like Green Lantern’s accident in March last year, where despite extensive computer modelling to the contrary, a part fails, that part will fail in such a way that it minimises serious risk to riders.

Actually, no, it's not world news at all.
Actually, no, it’s not world news at all.

So why all the drama then? Why do we love reading these clickbait articles? It’s because unlike the aviation industry, theme parks are selling the idea of fear to get you through the gate. The scarier, the better. And let’s be fair here, if they weren’t topping themselves year in and year our with bigger, faster thrill rides, you’d stop visiting. Mainstream media knows this, and knows a good story when they see it, so naturally it’s headline news. And despite a ride working exactly as it should, that it would stop automatically as a precaution, we still have articles like this one where big brands think it’s okay to turn the routine into drama, and to take from the little guy.

So the next time you see something like this pop up, just remember, cite your sources and be aware of bias in journalism. If there isn’t an industry professional or representative offering a counter point, it’s more then likely you’re being fed an opinion that’s pretty far from reality.

Editor’s Notes: At the time of writing, we’ve reached out to MyGC via Twitter & Facebook and despite MyGC posting new articles we haven’t heard back. (Updated 29/3 – MyGC have apologised for using our imagery, continuing to cite Twitter as the source. When pressed on where specifically on Twitter, we weren’t responded to. We’ve tried to follow this up and find where their team could’ve found the image, but sadly neither has yielded any result.)

Editor in Chief
  1. Good article, Australia is leading the world in the design/approval of safe machinery for use in Australia and even more so in Queensland. Our regulator for plant is the department of justice and before a ride can be used in Australia it must be subject to 3rd party approval by engineers for structural, mechanical, electrical and control system design. The code of practice for plant in Queensland states that every individual safety related component used must be approved by a third party that is recognised as a approved test house. We have had plant rejected by workplace health and safety even though it was verified by world renowned TUV. If the documentation does not exist (which it rarely does) then we request that a representative from the company signs their data sheet acknowledging that the related safety components data is accurate and that they take full responsibility personally for the accuracy of that data. It’s good to be part of the process and having full knowledge that rides constructed on Australian soil are the safest in the world.

    1. Fantastic comment. This is why I want to do a video down the track on this very subject. It’s quite incredible that mainstream news sources choose to ignore this despite us having higher standards than the Europeans.

  2. Wonder if this article would have been written if the green lantern had have moved an extra half an inch and fell off the track last year. I suspect not. Your logic is both correct and flawed. The track record is safe, yet that does not by virtue rule out lemons like this coaster which had insufficient FMEA done given it was turned from a 4 seater to an 8 seater which is evident given the fact the main carrier bolts sheared, the equivalent is the wheel nuts flying off your car whilst on the highway. If the wind blew differently that day, S&S would be over.

    1. I was waiting for a comment like this, and you’re right, what happened last year with Green Lantern shouldn’t have happened. Everyone was very, very lucky that day. It could’ve been a lot worse, and Australia’s essentially perfect safety streak would’ve been all but over. In saying that however that’s not what the article is about. Essentially the point i’m trying to convey here is over-reaching sensationalism that dismisses decades of engineering intellectualism, and safety-focussed design, redundancies and overall prowess by an entire industry to focus on one near miss and then drag a brand through the mud when the new safety systems work 100% as advertised really gives me the shits. It’s not a case of “if” mainstream media were going to cover Green Lantern when it eventually had to be stopped because of the myriad of reasons that would cause a ride to do such a thing (from guests with cameras on rides to a leaf tripping a sensor) but rather “when” they were going to pounce. And when they did pounce, it wasn’t with a modicum of thought or understanding of why, but rather a quick grab for ratings.

      Now in saying all of this, you strike me as someone who’s pretty acutely aware of what happened last year, which, again, i’m not denying was anything other then something we were incredibly lucky wasn’t worse then it was. And yet, just like aviation, as an industry everyone will learn from said mistakes and i’d bet my bottom dollar what happened last year will never happen again, especially in Australia, especially on Green Lantern. And to me, that alone is worth sharing.

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