Florida quarterly report: Q2 2022

April – June 2022

Large Florida theme parks submit a recap of serious injuries to the state regulator on a quarterly basis. The reports are available to the public online. This post breaks down the pattern in this quarter.

The only parks submitting reportable injuries in this quarter were Walt Disney World Resort (Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom) and Universal Orlando Resort (Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and Universal’s Volcano Bay). A total of 18 reports were included.

The average age was 50 (minimum 23, maximum 78). The average age at WDW was 53, vs. 40 for UOR. The female average age was 51 and 47 for males. All five injured guests at UOR were female; WDW cases were about equal. These observations contrast to the common assumption that impulsive juvenile boys are the population at risk. Boys may be impulsive, but safety measures protected them from serious injury at these parks.

None of the event narratives describe any malfunction of the attraction or indeed any excessively demanding qualities of the ride experience. Most of the attractions would be considered mild and low-elevation. Two of the UOR cases were common, classic ride types, carousel (Caroseussel) and teacup (Storm Force Accelatron). Three cases at WDW are literally bus rides (Kilimanjaro Safari), three were boat rides (Jungle Cruise, Living with the Land, and Pirates of the Caribbean), and one was a “peaceful train ride” (Wildlife Express). Several involved media-based rides (on which a rider views a movie while on seat that tilts, rises, and lowers) including Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, Avatar Flight of Passage, Star Tours – The Adventures Continue, and The Simpsons Ride. Cases from Universal’s Volcano Bay water theme park involved a 78-year old woman sustaining “elbow pain” in the kiddie splash area, and a 30 year old with a pre existing condition losing consciousness in a lazy river.

Seven (7) of 18 reports referenced pre-existing conditions (six at WDW, one at UOR). The nature of the injuries referencing pre-existing conditions were: motion sickness, chest pain, loss of consciousness (x 2), stroke-like symptoms, felt faint, and cardiac event. None of the pre-existing condition cases refers to a disabled guest acting impulsively and self-extracting or otherwise causing trouble.

Many of the injury types are described as “pain”. This makes it difficult to differentiate whether a guest has fractured or even amputated a limb, or simply lacerated, abraded, or contused a body part. This lack of transparency is often used as an indictment of the operators. That said, many of the reported conditions could describe guests unfit to spend an active day in Florida sun and heat, potentially with insufficient hydration or rest during the day. Excitement and peer pressure pushes guests onward until their body refuses to continue. Sitting on a ride for a few minutes may be the first opportunity to sit down and enjoy shade and cool and become mindful of how poorly they feel. Seeking aid from the park’s medical services at that point, they are referred out of an abundance of caution, and are recorded as a “serious” injury. On the other hand, it is possible that “pain” results from an operational breakdown, such as being caught between a ride vehicle and platform or in a gate, and a “headache” could have occurred as a result of an impact against a surface on or around the ride, but the terminology used in quarterly reports does not document the nature of the injury event, just the type of injury.

An improved injury taxonomy would go a long way to making these reports meaningful. However, there are no obvious indications that these are malfunctions or irresponsible design concealed with fuzzy language, for this particular quarter.

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About Kathryn Woodcock

Dr. Kathryn Woodcock is Professor at Toronto Metropolitan University, teaching, researching, and consulting in the area of human factors engineering / ergonomics particularly applied to amusement rides and attractions (https://thrilllab.blog.ryerson.ca), and to broader occupational and public safety issues of performance, error, investigation and inspection, and to disability and accessibility.