Safety Observations, Safety Prediction and the Ohio State Fair Tragedy

The recent Ohio State Fair ride collapse is still being investigated but the tragedy reminds us of two important key concepts in your approach to safety observations - Risk can be difficult to manage and it is critical to document the work you are doing.


Following the loss, Ohio Governor John Kasich said:

You can inspect, and you can re-inspect, and you can – in this case – have a third party inspect but if you’re looking for guarantees in life, they don’t exist. You just make sure that the risk you take on is something that you balance against the activity you want to engage in.” [1]

Do you agree with the Governor?

His statement captures a few thoughts about predicting incidents:

  • Predicting incidents requires inspecting the right things. Most operational risk models in industries served by Predictive Solutions involve a complex set of inputs but do not support the concept of random  As such, something happened that could have been prevented - a mechanical part failed and the component that broke was not inspected in the detail needed in the work safety inspection process.  We do not yet know exactly what happened, but more than likely the failed part could have been more thoroughly examined during the construction safety inspection – although it may not be economically practical or feasible to perform the level of testing and at the frequency needed to prevent a loss like this from occurring.  A more thorough inspection may include inspecting more things or inspecting the same things with a different technique.  More technical inspection may also require a greater diversity of inspectors, which our data shows decreases incidents anyway.

Another example of the need to inspect the right things comes from the 2014 circus incident in Rhode Island where 8 performers suspended to form a human “chandelier” fell when the carabiner holding them broke.  OSHA found that the part failed because it was not being used as the manufacturer intended.  A front line worker being asked to perform a safety inspection may not have the engineering knowledge necessary to determine if what they are being asked to observe is actually the right part for the job.  Inspectors need regular training to know exactly what to look for that creates risk.  In the case of metal fatigue, for example, the signs can be very subtle and can be missed if the observer is not aware.

  • Document Your Efforts.  In the movie, Law Abiding Citizen prosecutor Nick Rice says ”It's not what you know. It's what you can prove in court”.  My early experience working on General Liability and Commercial Auto claims for insurance companies validates this statement to be 100% true.  Almost anyone who has been deposed, or handled a DOT or Department of Labor investigation, has first-hand knowledge of the value of good documentation.

I don’t know the safety observation program for the rides at the Ohio State Fair, but I am certain that the involved parties had to quickly produce inspection records.  If they didn’t have industrial safety software any open items found in those inspections also need to be matched with documentation that the problems found have been corrected.  In this situation, paper- based and manual methods of documentation can quickly become a liability.

As the investigation unfolds we should learn more about the cause of this loss.  The answer may be a technical engineering explanation of metal fatigue, but how do we translate that into something useful to predicting injuries?  Early reports are that the ride was inspected and passed – but that is of no comfort to the victims.

Leading companies adopt occupational safety software for a competitive business advantage, to quickly align People and Process in a continuous improvement environment but it may still not be enough if your construction site safety audit is looking at the wrong things


Nick Goodell

Written by Nick Goodell

Improvement Leader, PSC. Nick has 15+ years of experience in insurance, risk management, and safety software.

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