Standardization News

The Evolution of Amusement Ride Standards

The amusement rides and devices committee — 1,000 members strong on its 40th anniversary — continues to foster safety, performance, and innovation.
Jack Maxwell

When adventurous New Yorkers paid five cents to board the Gravity Pleasure Switchback Railway at Coney Island in 1884, they found themselves hurtling along at a top speed of nearly 10 kilometers per hour.

Little did they know that this first true roller coaster would help spawn an industry that would someday be capable of sending riders to a top speed of over 240 km/h, as does the Formula Rossa in Abu Dhabi.

Although the industry is always competing for the tallest, fastest, newest experience, there is one thing that everyone agrees on and that is that rider safety is the number one priority. Thanks to the hard work of designers, engineers, operators, owners, and others, amusement rides have become both more exciting and safer over the years.

Progress in recent decades has been driven by groups such as ASTM International’s 1,000-member committee on amusement rides and devices (F24), which celebrated its 40th anniversary in February 2018 at its meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.

Setting the (Lap)Bar

In 1978, when the commiteee formed, amusement parks were in the midst of a roller coaster “arms race.” The U.S. National Amusement Park Historical Association characterizes the 1970s as “the decade of the roller coaster,” with parks seeking to top each other with faster, taller rides and looping inversions — all of which upped the ante in terms of patron safety.

Roller coasters soon became one of the many types of rides and attractions that industry experts began bringing to meetings of the committee, along with classic merry-go-rounds, water slides, Ferris wheels, and more recently, ziplines and trampolines. The group began to set voluntary consensus standards related to design, construction, operations, and maintenance.

Harold Hudson was there from the start. The industry consultant began volunteering in 1979 with the committee, so he had a front row seat (with lapbar and shoulder harness firmly in place, thank you very much) to see the evolution of rides and ride safety. While keeping people safe and secure has always been the number one focus of the industry, Hudson notes that the advent of a formalized, voluntary, standards development process designed to ensure consensus among the many stakeholders was a real game-changer.
“Many of the early standards had tremendous impact on the industry because suddenly there was a bar to be met,” he says. “The effect was that overall safety throughout the industry was improved. The parks had a reference for what they needed to do — that is, there was an industry standard.”

Hudson points out that those early standards were pretty basic — just a few pages focusing on performance or results, with little information on how such results were achieved. But “over the years, standards have become more specific and now many are design standards that set parameters and serve as guides for the designer/engineer and operator,” he says.

Two of F24’s groundbreaking accomplishments, in Hudson’s view, are the standard practices for ride design (F2291) and measuring ride dynamic characteristics (F2137). “Dynamic forces are what most amusement rides do, and F2137 was the first practice to standardize how these forces are measured and analyzed,” he says. “Now every designer, engineer, inspector, or operator has comparable results because they all use the same standard for acquiring and analyzing forces on amusement rides.”

It seems clear that the relationship between ASTM International and amusement ride industry stakeholders is working. Statistically, amusement rides have become an increasingly safe form of family entertainment. For example, an August 2017 report from the U.S. National Safety Council states that “Compared to 2003, both the estimated number of injuries and the injury rate per million patron-rides in 2016 were down - by 36 percent and 20 percent, respectively.”  The report indicates 0.8 injuries per million patron-rides in 2016, with only a fraction of those injuries reported to be “serious.” 1

Nimble and Responsive

One of F24’s most valuable attributes is its responsiveness.

“I think what makes F24 such a great committee for the theme park and amusement industry is that it’s the only international standards group where we bring up new topics that are relevant to the industry as soon as they happen, and we’re able to release standards faster,” says committee member Linda Freeman, a functional safety engineer and business development manager for Rockwell Automation. “So anytime there’s a new challenge in the industry, because of the way ASTM is structured, anyone can bring a topic to a meeting, anyone can propose that a subcommittee be formed, and anyone can request a meeting to discuss a problem. It just makes us a much more relevant and timely-to-the-issues group.”

Hudson concurs. “Reaction time is a key strength of F24,” he says. “When new knowledge is acquired, a standard can often be modified to include that knowledge in less than a year. This is important to an ever-improving safety environment.”

The challenges Freeman referenced range from addressing the safety implications of new materials and technologies to developing standards from scratch for entirely new categories of amusements and attractions.
A newly published standard approved by the subcommittee on test methods (F24.10) is a good example of the former. The new standard, F3214, will help ride designers and owners better determine the flammability and other fire properties of materials they use in foams and paddings for riders.

Roger Berry, with the Ralph S. Alberts Co. Inc., notes that ride vehicles, especially those indoors, can sometimes be overlooked by inspectors who focus more on the structure when determining the appropriate building code flame/smoke standard to apply. “Because this is a ride vehicle, we want to provide additional requirements to ensure safety,” Berry says. “We have some soft goods involved that are there for the protection and comfort of our guests that are not going to meet a traditional drywall burn standard or a more aggressive burn standard.”

Helping to enhance the safety of foam pads and molded goods used on ride vehicles is only the beginning. According to Berry, this new standard is now a living document that will incorporate future changes in the industry. “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is constantly changing materials that can be used in the construction of ride components,” Berry says, “so consequently there will be a need for future revisions in this area. But we’ll also be updating the standard to include composite body structures, as well as electrical and hydraulic systems.”

Beyond the traditional amusement rides, Committee F24 is also adjusting to the demand for voluntary consensus standards in new recreational activities that didn’t even exist until recently.

Take obstacle course racing. It’s only been about a decade since fitness enthusiasts started scrambling up walls and crawling under barbed wire in organized events, but USA Obstacle Course Racing, the sport’s governing body in the United States, asserts that it is now the number one mass participation sport in the world, larger than marathons, half-marathons, and triathlons combined.

As the sport has expanded, so has the realization among various stakeholders that standards need to keep pace. To meet this need, the subcommittee on adventure attractions (F24.61) began work last year on a standard for building and operating “land-based pedestrian obstacle courses.” Among other things, the proposed standard aims to “remove obvious hazardous conditions by the logical application of existing standards and model codes.”

Brian von Ancken, global risk manager and general counsel for Tough Mudder, puts it this way: “The growth of the industry and concerns for participant safety led us to think about global standards. The entire event is being examined, including pre-event checks and fall protection.”

A Strong Pipeline of Standards Experts

In addition to keeping pace with the latest trends and technologies, F24 is one of the most active of ASTM International’s 150 committees in regards to building a pipeline of future experts.

“One of the things that’s really cool about F24 is that we have a very active student outreach program,” says Linda Freeman. “We are doing really well with succession planning for technical people in our industry. In the beginning, we used to have maybe five or six students that would attend. At the last meeting, the number was over 40. So it’s really grown over the last four years.” (Click here to see a photo of engineering students who attended the February 2018 New Orleans meeting.)

Freeman also points out that amusement attractions will continue to grow in complexity and will require knowledgeable, technically sophisticated engineers and leaders to design, build, and maintain them.
One way to increase the number of candidates capable of filling these roles is to reach out to women.
“Women make up half of this planet, so gender representation in technical fields should also be 50-50,” Freeman says. “But sometimes that doesn’t happen because, when you don’t have someone as a role model or you don’t feel part of the group, then you don’t join. So it’s on all of us to be that role model, because we need more technical people going into that field, and the way to find more bodies is to bring in more women.” (See sidebar below, "Let's Do Lunch," for more on how the women of F24 are helping to close the gender gap.)

Global Reach

F24, like many ASTM International committees, is global both in terms of its membership roster and the impact of the standards it develops. With major ride design and manufacturing companies located throughout the Americas, Europe, and Asia, and with U.S.-based companies in markets around the world, it’s crucial that the work of the committee is carried out in a spirit of cooperation with other standards organizations.

Greg Hale has a long history of involvement in efforts to improve the consistency of international safety standards. As an F24 member for nearly 30 years — as well as in his professional roles as chief safety officer and vice president of worldwide safety and health for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, and immediate past chairman of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions — Hale has championed the harmonization of ride standards.

“The harmonization process has consisted of bringing together the ride experts working on the EN (European Norms), ISO standards, and ASTM International standards,” Hale says. “The leaders and members of each of those organizations have been key to the success by working together and sharing their technical expertise so that the core technical requirements of all three sets of these global standards are now harmonized.”

Giving two examples of cross-fertilization, Hale says, “ASTM International’s F2291 design standard was based on the great work of the EN13814 committee. Conversely, EN13814 has adopted ASTM’s F2137 for measuring ride accelerations, and ISO technical committee 254 has also voted to adopt F2137.” Hale says this means that there will essentially be only be one standard in the world for measuring ride accelerations.
Clearly, the 1,000-plus members of ASTM International’s committee on amusement rides and devices are poised to build on their strong legacy of the past four decades.


1National Safety Council, “Fixed-Site Amusement Ride Injury Survey for North America, 2016 Update,”

“Let’s Do Lunch”

This invitation, first offered just four years ago, created an ever-growing network of empowered, enthusiastic women in the committee on amusement rides and devices.

The membership roster of the committee on amusement rides and devices (F24), like that of many other committees, includes many engineers. No surprise there. And most of those engineers are men — also not surprising, considering that only 29,000 of the 337,000 mechanical engineers employed in 2015 in the United States were women, according to the National Science Foundation.

However, what may be surprising to those not involved with F24 is the fact that an outreach initiative that began just four years ago with a simple invitation to lunch is slowly but steadily changing the face of the committee to be younger and more gender-balanced.

“When I first started going to ASTM meetings, around 2000 or 2001, I could probably count on both my hands the number of women that were there,” marvels Linda Freeman. “Now, I don’t even know half of them.”

Freeman, a functional safety engineer and business development manager for Rockwell Automation, was there for that first lunch in 2014. It came about thanks to a suggestion by F24 member Kathryn Woodcock, Ph.D., PEng. “I proposed this session because I met many people through Committee F24 and was often surprised to discover that two people who I knew had attended for some time did not know each other, despite having similar jobs,” says Woodcock, a professor at Ryerson University in Toronto.

Freeman had a similar experience. “There are 300 people at the F24 meeting but you might only be in a meeting room all day long with the same 20 people, and don’t see the other women,” she says. “So that’s what I think is important. It’s helped us to also increase the number of women that are now frequently attending the F24 meetings.”

So what goes on at these meetings? “We usually go around the table and give brief bio and career highlights,” Woodcock says. “This opens the door to unstructured discussion of common interests, new developments, observations, and aspirations.”

“We’ll talk about relevant issues to women in the workplace, and then we’ll also share stories from our personal and professional lives. It’s networking, getting to know people,” notes Freeman.

What began as an informal luncheon has evolved into a regular feature of every F24 meeting – and the women who were there at the beginning are thrilled with the results. Freeman remembers, when she was a student, how “any opportunity I ever had to socially interact with professional women engineers, to see role models, really had an impact on me. So it’s great to be able to give back and do that for the female students, to inspire them to pursue technical careers.”

“I am gratified to see that more of the women of F24 now know each other, and with the importance of networking in the attractions industry, this can only be an asset, not just to the connected women, but to others in their networks,” says Woodcock, who also gives a shout-out to her male colleagues. “There have been some wonderful allies among the men of Committee F24, sponsoring the lunches from time to time and encouraging their female colleagues to join us. The supportive atmosphere in this committee is remarkable.”

(Related: See the quote from Franceen Gonzales, F24’s vice chairman, in this article.)

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