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Amusement Park Injuries: Is Worker Exhaustion Part of the Problem?

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Roanoke, VAConcerns about amusement park accidents often involve worries about roller coasters not being properly maintained or cars jumping tracks. If there are concerns about employee involvement in amusement park injuries, it often involves not being properly trained for his or her job. But a report published in 2013 suggests that many carnival and theme park workers are overworked and subject to grueling hours and deplorable living conditions, which could increase the likelihood of a theme park accident.

The report, titled “Taken For A Ride: Migrant Workers in the U.S. Fair and Carnival Industry,” was written by the American University Washington College of Law Immigrant Justice Clinic. The clinic represents immigrants in legal cases and calls the working conditions for employees in the fair and carnival industry appalling.

The report notes that many employees in the carnival and fair industry are seasonal, migrant workers.

“As a result of inadequate government oversight and enforcement of existing laws, coupled with workers’ limited access to exercise their rights…employers continue to bring workers to the U.S. and place them in deplorable work and living conditions with almost absolute impunity,” the report notes. And while these living and working conditions are deplorable for workers, they can also result in errors at work, putting themselves, co-workers and carnival goers at risk of serious injury.

According to the report, many workers interviewed worked more than 80 hours a week, including operating the rides. Employees could work 12- to 14-hour days, seven days a week. The workers often made only $300 per week, less than the federal minimum wage, and were frequently denied legally mandated meal and rest breaks.

“The long work hours and lack of breaks result in physical and mental exhaustion,” the report notes. “Ride operators lift and assemble heavy equipment, often without training or protective gear and sometimes in inclement weather.” Some workers reported being sent up to great heights to set up rides, without harnesses or helmets.

Additionally, the report noted that the workers’ living conditions are often isolated and substandard, sometimes lacking proper bathing and waste facilities and without refrigeration for food. The report gives the example of Nicolas, a Mexican worker who frequently worked 12- or 13-hour days operating a carnival ride, with infrequent breaks. When the trailer he lived in with six other workers broke down (even when it worked it had no kitchen or hot water), Nicolas had to sleep under a ride at the carnival.

Employees who are responsible for setting up and taking down fairs may wind up working up to 24 hours a day on days when rides are torn down and reconstructed, often on getting a half-day off per week.

NBC News (8/24/14) reports that many of these companies comply with the law, and although the conditions they subject workers to are appalling, the long hours and low pay are legal under the Fair Labor Standards Act for seasonal workers. That, however, might not protect carnival owners and operators if their workers’ exhaustion results in a serious accident.


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