Columbus —  Jon Kaufman and Ron Dean climbed up ladders and looked high and low at the bolts holding together the “Typhoon,” one of the rides awaiting thrill-seeking attendees at this year’s Ohio State Fair.
Then, the two Ohio Department of Agriculture inspectors checked the bars that secure riders as their seats are swung rapidly skyward, standing back as the operator set things in motion.
Kaufman and Dean and other ODA inspectors have been busy at the state fairgrounds in Columbus since last week, when rides began arriving for the 12-day fair, which starts July 29.
More than 900,000 people are expected to attend this year’s event. But before any of those folks step foot on the Typhoon, a Tilt-A-Whirl or the mainstay giant slide, each of the rides has to pass multiple inspections.
Michael Vartorella, chief inspector in the ODA’s amusement ride inspection section, said the checks begin as soon as the equipment arrives at the fairgrounds, before it’s even unloaded. Inspectors check the condition of the metal and supports, then work to ensure the rides are set up and operated properly.
That means inspectors like Kaufman and Dean checking everything from bolts to safety harnesses. And those checks continue throughout the fair — Vartorella said each ride is checked daily.
“We’ve got about 79 pieces coming in from different parts of the country,” he said. “We’re going to do full initial inspections on every piece of equipment that’s going to be operating at the state fair.”
Inspectors also keep an eye on fair games to ensure they meet state requirements — that they are games of skill that can be won.
About 10 inspectors at ODA spend the year checking amusement rides and games at seasonal fairs, established amusement parks and at local businesses that operate year-round, including go-cart tracks and water parks. They conduct more than 10,000 inspections annually on 3,600-plus rides that are licensed to operate in the state.
Sometimes, inspectors deem rides don’t meet safety and other requirements and aren’t allowed to operate.
Sometimes, operators are cited for violations — 26 were issued last year, and nine were issued through the end of March of this year. The latter included record-keeping deficiencies, improper chlorine levels, underage operators and failure to report accidents.
Many of the issues are minor and can be corrected, Vartorella said — “No major problems. We don’t get very many major problems at all.”
Vartorella urged fair-goers to follow the rules on height and restraint requirements to ensure riders are safe.
“I think [the rides] are very safe,” he said.
Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.