The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

October 23, 2013

State to post ride inspections online

John Finnerty
CNHI State Reporter

HARRISBURG — The Department of Agriculture is pledging to have an online database of carnival ride inspections up and running in time for the 2014 carnival season.

This follows an investigation by PublicSource, a Pittsburgh-based group, that found lapses in documentation of inspections at Pennsylvania amusement parks. A Tribune-Democrat investigation revealed similar lapses at carnivals and county fairs.

The $50,000 ride inspection website will debut by June and will include a map with icons for every fair and amusement park in the state, said Michael Pechart, executive deputy secretary of the Department of Agriculture.

By clicking on the icon, citizens will be able to see the latest inspection report.

The website will replace the existing outdated system of record-keeping for ride inspections.

Some ride operators submit paper reports. Others submit inspection reports online or by email.

“Because of the outdated databases, and the many ways we receive data, we must search at least three separate locations – two electronic databases and one paper file – to ensure we have all the information regarding a particular site, ride, inspector or event,” Pechart told the House agriculture committee. “We have concluded that bureau’s current database cannot be repaired … so we must completely redesign the system.”

Pechart said the state had planned to create such a database before the media reports about the documentation problems. The Agriculture Department has similar online inspection databases for restaurant inspections and dog kennels.

The Department of Agriculture’s ability to track inspection reports is complicated because the state relies heavily on inspections completed by employees of the amusement parks or carnival operators.

There are 2,100 private inspectors in Pennsylvania. Their efforts are reviewed by four quality assurance inspectors in the Department of Agriculture. Ohio and Maryland each have seven state-employed amusement ride inspectors, officials in those states said Wednesday. Neither state has ride inspection reports posted on its website.

Carnival ride operators in Pennsylvania defend the use of industry inspectors.

Lloyd Serfass, president of the Pennsylvania State Showmen’s Association, said that he believes his employees conduct more rigorous inspections than state inspectors they encounter in other parts of the country.

In Maryland, state inspectors conducted 5,064 inspections of 1,690 different rides in 2013, said Maureen O’Connor, a spokeswoman with the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. In Pennsylvania, there were 24,082 ride inspections conducted in 2013, mostly by the industry-hired inspectors.