MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Two serious incidents at the Delta Fair, including one where people were thrown from a ride, has prompted a new conversation among lawmakers about the safety and inspections of amusement rides in Tennessee.
Senator Brian Kelsey and Representative John Deberry sponsored a pair of bills to address several issues surrounding ride safety.
“Representative Deberry and I were both very concerned when the Delta Fair incident happened last year, and now we can try to do something about it to ensure that never happens again,” said Senator Kelsey of Collierville.
“We obviously want to make sure these machines are safe and being inspected properly, so now there will be more inspections,” he added. “They will have to be from a list that’s approved by the state board, and they can actually be unannounced inspections as well.”
Ride operators have to be at least 16-years-old.
The bill also replaces the language “qualified third-party inspector” with the words “qualified inspector” which might lead some to believe state inspectors will be handling more of the jobs, but that’s not the case.
“The intent of this amendment was never to have state inspectors, there just isn’t the funding for state inspectors right now,” said Chris Cannon, a spokesperson with the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. That’s the department that oversees the Amusement Devices Division.
The Amusement Devices Division has had a tough time even keeping people in those positions, as WREG has previously reported.
Cannon said the Division recently hired three people to cover each part of the state, but they’re not certified and won’t be for a year.
He said even then, state workers will primarily serve as an extra layer of protection.
“The state will still rely on third-party inspectors and the safety compliance officers will oversee those third party inspectors,” explained Cannon.
Also, despite proper inspections, amusement devices travel from state to state.
WREG asked Senator Kelsley, “So, does this bill do enough?”
“I think this bill is a great step in the right direction, but we need to continue to make these inspections stronger.”
One of the biggest changes that would be apparent to consumers if the bill becomes law is the fact that operators would be required to post inspections, along with a sticker showing the date of the last inspection.
The original bills filed would have required ride operators to be at least 18-years-old as well as added a second, required annual inspection.
Currently, annual inspections are required for a permit to operate a ride in Tennessee.
According to state regulators, when it comes to traveling fairs, inspections must be conducted by a qualified inspector, no more than three months prior to the date of application for the permit.