You climb aboard a ride at an amusement park or carnival, or maybe you send your kids to a haunted house or scampering up a climbing wall. What about those bouncy castles at the county fair? Or a ski lift or go-kart track?
The task of guaranteeing the safety of amusements like those, and many others, falls to just five inspectors in the Illinois Department of Labor's Carnival and Amusement Ride Division. And last year, those five individuals were responsible for more than 4,000 inspections.
"That includes initial inspections and all the followup inspections we do," says Ryan Culton, the Division Manager. "Each one is very particular and has its own guidelines."
Indeed, the same inspectors responsible for all those haunted houses and carnival attractions statewide, also certify the safety of the rides at larger venues like Great America and Navy Pier. They oversee 75 ziplines, 55 rollercoasters and 98 carousels. And along with the mechanical operations, they must examine the credentials of all staffers and operators as well.
"We make sure that the operators in the state have criminal background checks, national sex offender checks, and that they are all properly trained in operating and safety using the ride," Culton said.
With the heavy workload, it was especially bad news for the department when the Illinois Executive Inspector General presented evidence earlier this year that one inspector had been falsifying his reports.
The OEIG found that inspector Charles Drager falsified official records, violated the department's administrative code, and failed to report his secondary employment.
The Inspector General cited Drager's work as a part-time "vocal impressionist", entertaining at public events with the impersonations of famous singers. The inspector's final report said Drager "abused State time by performing vocal impressions on state time," and that he "potentially risked the well-being of children, adults, and others who put faith in the State to conduct competent and complete inspection of carnival rides, ski lifts, and inflatable devices."
The state report says Drager admitted to investigators that he'd submitted about fifty incorrect time and attendance records, during his sixteen-year tenure at IDOL.
"Based on the evidence," the report stated, "the OEIG recommends the termination of Mr. Drager's employment, and also recommends that IDOL take whatever steps are necessary to re-inspect any apparatus that Mr. Drager did not inspect, but said he had."
Following the OEIG investigation, Drager resigned his position earlier this year.
Labor Department officials said in a statement they cooperated fully in the investigation into Drager's work, and that they have hired a new inspector to take his place.
"To the Department's knowledge, there were no incidents involving the rides and attractions Mr. Drager had inspected," an IDOL spokesman said in a statement.
Despite their workload, the Labor Department inspectors point to a good safety record. Last year there were only twelve injuries statewide, with only three of those attributed to mechanics, and the Department says there was no suggestion in any of those cases that the rides did not meet proper safety standards at the time they were inspected.
Inspectors also prevented a haunted house from opening this week in Ashmore, due to a lack of fire sprinklers.
"The safety of all the patrons of Illinois is really our number one concern," Culton said.
Toward that end, the Labor Department was successful this year in pushing the passage of Senate Bill 2184, which could provide funds that could allow for the addition of as many as three more inspectors. Governor Pat Quinn signed the bill, and the department spokesman says it hopes to fill the positions if and when the General Assembly provides funding.