On October 14th of last year, inspectors from the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (CAL/OSHA) paid a surprise visit to The Big Fresno Fair midway, which is provided by Butler Amusement Inc. Six months later, in a press release circulated on the internet news feed service, Newswire, CAL/OSHA made public that a safety violation was being issued against Butler Amusement, fining the company $101,250.
The citation against Butler is about as serious as it gets for a violation unrelated to an accident and/or injury. The citation is for "willful" violation of the safety code, the most severe citation that can be issued and one that is not just expensive, but can cause irreparable damage to the reputation of the amusement ride company.
Bolts & Flanges
According to Cal/OSHA, Butler Amusements knowingly compromised the safety of two rides. "The Giant Wheel was missing all the 12 bolts associated with the support leg flanges and the Flying Bobs was missing all of the lower cross bracing used for structural support," read the press release.
Once the investigators discovered the missing parts in the machinery, Butler Amusement personnel immediately stopped the rides and passengers disembarked. There were no injuries. The bolts and flanges were replaced and the rides resumed running through the close of the fair. The entire incident, according to Nancy Medeiros, Regional Manager and head of Cal/OSHA's Amusement Ride and Tramway Unit, CAL/OSHA, took about three hours.
"We had received a complaint that the bolts were being removed and the ride was still operating, and they were doing this on the last day of the fair to facilitate a quicker load out," said Medeiros. "That is why we purposely went on the last day of The Big Fresno Fair. Dismantling the rides while they are still in operation is a very serious offense."
Lance Moyer, Chief Operating Officer of Butler Amusements told Carnival Warehouse that under attorney advisement, he is limited as to what he can say about the matter. However, he confirmed that Butler will be appealing the fines. "The idea of dismantling a ride before a fair is over so you can get out of there quicker is not something Butler condones, on any spot, at any time or at any fair," said Moyer.
The appeals process can take anywhere between six months to over a year, although Medeiros stated the agency is "making all efforts to speed the process along."
The appeal process involves an appeals board hearing, followed by a decision by an Administrative Law Judge, which is intended to reach a settlement between parties. A settlement is reached in more than 90 percent of the appeals, according to Medeiros. If not, the case becomes a civil suit and sent to the Superior Court of California.
Moyer said that his appeal will be seeking to downgrade the violation "We want it changed from willful," he said. "There's no evidence showing it was intentional. If anything, it was inadvertent negligence."
In addition, the publicizing of the violation by CAL/OSHA will be addressed in the appeal. "The press release went out on PR/Newswire, and we are wondering why they did that," said Moyer. "It hurt the reputation we've spent decades building."
Medeiros said her office received a complaint on August 12th that the behavior - running a ride after removing bolts and safety apparatus, presumably for a more rapid load out - had been observed on the final day of the California Exposition and State Fair (CAL-EXPO), which ran July 12-28. Medeiros added that CAL/OSHA is under no obligation to reveal the source or additional details about the complaint her agency received.
Rick Pickering, CEO of CAL-EXPO had not known of the part CAL-EXPO had in initiating the surprise inspection of Butler Amusements by CAL/OSHA at The Big Fresno Fair until asked about it by Carnival Warehouse during the reporting of this story. Pickering said he immediately contacted CAL/OSHA, who "categorically verified to the best of their knowledge that the complaint did not come from anyone employed by CAL-Expo."
Pickering, has been in his current position for about year and previously was CEO of the Alameda County Fair. Both his present and past fairs employed Butler Amusements as their midway provider. "I've had only positive relationships with Butler Amusements." He added that Butler has been with CAL/EXPO for six years and "we are looking forward to their midway for the 2014 fair."
Butler Amusements had originally been the midway provider for The Big Fresno Fair from 1981 - 2005, and resumed the role again in 2010. Butler is currently in the fourth year of a five year contract. Medeiros claims that CAL/OSHA informed The Big Fresno Fair they were on the premises the day of the surprise inspection, but they were under no obligation to inform the fair staff a violation had occurred. "The fair was not a claimant," she said.
As to why the fair was not aware that its star midway attraction - the 100-foot-tall Giant Wheel - had been shut down for hours, Medeiros said that the "there was a lot of confusion on the last day of the fair. The Big Fresno Fair knew we were there, they were not being issued a violation, and Butler Amusement was able to fix the problem while the inspectors were there."
Big Fresno Response
Stacy Rianda, Deputy Manager, The Big Fresno Fair said that it was not until the PR/Newswire in April did The Big Fresno Fair find about the violation and citation.
"The Big Fresno Fair learned for the first time on April 22, 2014, of the 2013 CAL/OSHA investigation and alleged safety violations against the Fair carnival provider Butler Amusements," said Rianda. "According to CAL/OSHA representatives, Butler Amusements received direct notification on October 14, 2013, the last day of the 2013 Fair, and again on April 11, 2014. Unfortunately, The Big Fresno Fair management was not made aware of this situation until April 22, 2014."
Rianda added, "We find the lack of communication with The Big Fresno Fair disturbing and as such, we have addressed our concerns with both CAL/OSHA and Butler Amusements. We want to assure the community that each year The Big Fresno Fair works closely with a variety of private, State, County and City agencies, including CAL/OSHA, to comply with and exceed the health & safety requirements ensuring a safe event for our community in all areas including livestock, horse racing, food vendors, carnival rides and so much more. Specific to carnival rides, the Fair works with Comspeq Consulting, Inc., a third party carnival inspection team, who inspects and approves all carnival rides before they are allowed to open each Fair run."
Aside from being perturbed about communication issues regarding CAL/OSHA, Rianda said the fair organization initiated its own investigation into the matter. " During our investigation into these allegations it was found that, according to CAL/OSHA documents, Butler Amusements shut down the identified rides upon notice from CAL/OSHA, fixed the issue to their expectation, and then reopened the rides for safe use the same night," said Rianda. "This is exactly how the process should work. The health and safety of our Big Fresno Fair guests is, and will always be, our number one priority."
No fairs had cancelled their contracts with Butler Amusements, one of the leading midway providers in the western United States. The company was founded in 1970 and will be providing midways to more than 40 events this year, according to the 2014 schedule posted on the company's website. "The support by the industry has been tremendous," said Moyer. "Our fairs our behind us 100 percent. Everyone has been calling, asking how can we help?"