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Exclusive interview with Wayne Pierce- Part 2

6/16/2006

By MCW Staff

Photo courtesy of Wayne Pierce

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The following is part two of our extensive interview with Wayne Pierce, a twenty five year veteran of the industry and one of our leading voices on regulatory and safety issues.

The second part of the interview deals with ride safety and insurance and some of the many important regulations both active and proposed carnival operators are faced with. Wayne meets each question head-on and gives his views of these issues and the future of our industry.

11. In numerical or comparative terms, how safe is riding a carnival ride? Does this differ at all from amusement park rides and if so, how so?

Reputable statistical data of this type is hard to find. Nonetheless, the information that we have is that mobile rides are probably the safest form of entertainment, safer than such notoriously-dangerous activities Photo By Wayne Pierceas playing with dollhouses or shooting pool. No matter how devoted we are to guest safety, there are an irreducible number of injuries associated with any human activity, and mobile rides are in that range. It is very difficult to compare the safety of mobile and fixed rides, because both are in the irreducible range of all human activities, and it is very difficult to estimate the exposure rate for each.


12. How many states have amusement ride inspection programs and how, generally, do they vary from state to state?

There are 37 states that require some type of pre-accident or periodic ride-specific safety inspections. Another 6 states have limited-scope inspections (e.g., electrical inspections) or insurance requirements that usually require inspections. The remaining 7 states and the District of Columbia basically look to the local jurisdictions to handle inspections, which frequently happens. Inspection programs vary based on the scope (e.g., building, health, electrical), type (fixed or mobile), or inspector (governmental or private).


13. What role do the private inspection companies play in the inspection/safety process?

Private inspectors are a key component of our redundant layers of protection. Those folks tend to be the industry leaders who set the pace for the rest. They deliver critical service in insurance-inspector states (Texas), opt-out states (Virginia), privatized states (West Virginia), or certification states (Pennsylvania). And many owners contract privately for their services even without a state law.


14. If some states have inspection programs and some don’t, some inspect every setup and some only once a year, you would expect to see a great numerical difference in accidents from state to state. Is this the case? Please explain.

Excellent question. The answer is: We don’t know, but it seems unlikely, or we would have heard it ringing from every mountaintop. In fact, I have posed this question several times to all the regulators involved in CARES. Seems like every time we have a rare-but-serious accident, there is no shortage of reformists. A certain amount of experimentation within our federal system of government can be good, but we seem to get one man’s baseless hypothesis followed by another’s rank speculation. So I have challenged CARES: “Right now, when we aren’t under the gun of a major accident, prove that any of you have a better regulatory system that makes a difference, and I guarantee you that industry will stand shoulder to shoulder with you to spread it around the country.” I am still waiting for an answer.


15. What are your views on rider safety legislation? How many states have this type of legislation and what is it? Will it make rides safer for the customer?

One of my nicknames is “The Father of Rider Responsibility,” and I still regard rider safety legislation as the great untapped promised land. No other option is better able to meaningfully lower injuries without compromising ride function or escalating costs. We already regulate owners and manufacturers, but the largely-unrestrained third leg of our safety stool (patrons) still regularly topples us. I define rider safety as a statute or regulation that imposes safety duties on patrons. This type of law has been passed in 24 states and 4 local jurisdictions. These types of laws have been studied at length in the automotive field (seat belts, motorcycle helmets), where they are regularly proven to save lives and reduce injuries. All of the available evidence in our and sister recreational industries indicates the same is true for our patrons.


16. There are a couple of national certification entities, NAARSO, AIMS and some states have amusement ride certification. How are these certifications different and what do they really mean?

These types of certifications vary based primarily on their scope (operations, maintenance, inspection), standards (industry practice or state law), and to a lesser extent the target audience (operators, governmental or private inspectors). The private certificates attest that you are recognized by your peers as having attained a certain level of proficiency, and the state certificates establish your knowledge of state law and compliance. They are fundamentally an effort to build quality, professionalism, and integrity into the industry. They are also becoming a basis to differentiate pay grades and other job characteristics.


17. Wayne, insurance costs are rising, many say this is due to settlements and a litigious society. What are some good strategies to keep these costs down and how can a carnival owner stem the rising tide of insurance costs?

Certainly, there are numerous market factors beyond our control that influence insurance rates. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the single biggest factor in individual rates is the performance of each show. It is nearly impossible for shows to survive in this country without insurance, so you see a sea change in attitude toward insurance and its proper role. Shows these days are much more likely to “self-adjust” claims to keep their loss runs clean. Some folks may not want to hear this, but the single best strategy to control insurance costs is to invest more up front to prevent problems. To paraphrase the old Fram oil filter commercial, you can pay now or pay even more later. Several groundbreaking studies of manufacturers, for example, have shown that world-class companies have injected safety into every aspect of their operation, spend twice as much on safety issues, and are four times less likely to have problems. Those studies also show that the most effective operators:

a. are totally committed to safety from top to bottom.
b. are focused on doing the right thing for their guests.
c. fix problems quickly and decisively.
d. do not try to hide their problems.
e. respect all employees.


18. What are some other threats on the legal front to the industry?

I will mention a couple more that you have not raised. Do not underestimate motivated plaintiffs’ lawyers. If they can bring down big asbestos and big tobacco, our industry would be relatively easy to target. Those folks stay up at night creating new traps and pitfalls, and there is no shortage of grist for their mills. I also worry about the public’s myth of perfection. We have worked so hard for so long that some folks will now tell you that you cannot get seriously injured at a carnival unless the carnival screws up. I spend an extraordinary amount of time tempering the public’s expectations.


19. We know of a couple of websites dedicated to safety issues, ride accidents, there are also some email groups. Can you tell as about some of them and are they good sources of information or something to be avoided?

We all have a responsibility to keep up with our ever-changing industry. My firm devotes a lot of our own internal resources to track those industry trends and developments for our clients and friends. We have a fairly elaborate protocol for the scope of our searches, what we search, and how often we search. To me, the challenge is to find the best sources of information out of the many available so that you get the biggest bang for the time invested. Here are some suggestions that your readers may not know about but should:

a. www.masstort.org and www.themelaw.com – these are blogs maintained by law professors and cover a variety of legal issues.
b. www.naflic.org.uk – this is the British equivalent to NAARSO. They post a lot of alerts.
c. www.safetyforum.com/amusementparks -- this is a plaintiffs’ lawyers’ site targeting our industry.


20. Are there any sites dedicated to the industry, distributing information such as safety bulletins for rides, news items, etc?

During the past year, the CARES organization amassed thousands of manuals and bulletins by combining their respective state libraries. At their January meeting, they agreed to make that collection available at www.naarso.com. I was told last month that the AIMS board had recently decided to do the same service. And this summer, I hope to go live with our own coverage at www.adventurelaw.com. Stay tuned.


21. Wayne, what do you see for the future of our industry in terms of safety and liability? Is this still a good industry to be in or will the regulations and liability risks force us to shut the doors?

The industry really has achieved an enviable safety and liability record. This is evident to me by comparing the peripheral coverage that we receive by activists, plaintiffs’ lawyers, legal trade publications, etc. We will always have opportunists sniffing for the next $368.5 billion tobacco settlement. But as long as we stick to our game plan of providing unique family adventure, we can continue to make memories and a living for many generations to come.


22. Anything else you would like to add?

I fundamentally believe that you have to passionately immerse yourself in your work if you really want to put clients first. That is why we not only “protect the adventure,” but we practice the adventure as well. To do our job, it helps if you have a little bit of daredevil, a little bit of thrill-seeker, and a whole lot of young at heart. It’s a mistake to forget that our hearts chose a business of fun.

Thank you for your time!

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