Just weeks after the collapse of a ride at a Tulsa water park, the state Department of Labor is nearly ready to begin inspections of water park rides.
The first inspections are scheduled for July 17, said Tom Monroe, director of the Labor Department's Safety Standards division.
In May, Tulsa's Big Splash water park made the news when its Master Blaster water ride collapsed. Though no one was injured in the incident, the story captured the attention of lawmakers and other government officials who noticed a gap in the state's regulation of amusement park rides.
The Labor Department has inspected rides at amusement parks and carnivals for years, but not rides at water parks. In 2003, Oklahoma law was revised, taking the word "mechanical" out of the description of the rides the Labor Department is charged with inspecting, said Monroe.
"There wasn't any question in my mind" that change gave the Labor Department the authority to inspect water rides as well as all other kinds of amusement rides, said Monroe, but he wasn't at the Labor Department at the time the law was changed. Monroe had left the department in 1999 and has now returned to the department a few weeks ago. Lloyd L. Fields, the new labor commissioner, took office in January 2007.
The department has asked state Attorney General Drew Edmondson to issue a legal opinion regarding the department's authority to inspect water rides.
The lack of government regulation does not mean that water park rides have gone unexamined the last few years, said Monroe. Often, a park will have its rides inspected by a private entity for insurance purposes.
State Reps. Ron Peterson, R-Broken Arrow, and Randy Terrill, R- Moore, have announced the state House of Representatives will conduct a study during the legislative interim. Terrill said it would be logical to place authority for inspecting water rides with the Labor Department, which already inspects other kinds of amusement rides and thus has the necessary expertise to examine the structural integrity of the rides. Terrill has suggested state law be amended to more clearly assign the authority to examine water rides to the Labor Department.
Oklahoma's Labor Department has built a reputation for its examination of amusement park rides. Saferparks, a California-based nonprofit organization, rated Oklahoma among the top 10 states for its ride inspection policy.
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