When you think of a waterpark you probably picture a hot, sunny summer day with crowds of people flocking to the nearest water slide. Perhaps you picture your own family and friends enjoying a perfectly idyllic day of safe, wholesome fun and excitement. The appeal of waterparks is not limited to just children and teens. Young adults and parents alike are quick to jump in and enjoy the slides, wave pool and lazy river when the opportunity presents itself. Drawing from this nearly universal appeal, nearly 80 million Americans visited one of approximately 1,000 water parks in 2010. They expect the utmost care in safety precautions, but unfortunately accidents occur at waterparks more often than people realize.
Understanding the Causes of Injury on Waterslides
Perhaps the most infamous water slide of all time was the CannonBall Loop at Action Park in Vernon, NJ. The slide was one-of-a-kind in that it had a loop much like a rollercoaster does. Unfortunately, people would get stuck in the loop or they would slam their head or face into the loop if they had too much (or too little) speed. Other people would emerge with cuts and abrasions across their entire backs because the loop would prevent sand and sediment from emptying into the pool. This slide is a particularly egregious example of how a defectively designed and insufficiently maintained waterslide can lead to serious injuries. Other causes of injury on water slides include:
- Operator error
- Equipment failure
- Failure to warn about known hazards
- Ride exit velocity
- Failure to account for foreseeable human behavior
The preceding list is far from a comprehensive compilation of all reasons injuries are sustained on water slides, however it does address many of the predominate causes for injury.
Types of Waterslide Injuries
According to statistics compiled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), water park injuries are on the rise. There were 3,779 reported injuries in 2009 which increased to 5,200 in 2011 from reports compiled from approximately 100 emergency rooms. This increase cannot simply be explained away by increased attendance however because attendance only increased by 3 million over that 3 year period. Meaning that accidents increased by 37% while attendance increased by just 3.75%.
A 2007 study cited by The Safety Record newsletter provides some insight into the types of injuries that are typically suffered by patrons of water parks. It revealed that out of 325 patients:
- 18% were fractures to arms, legs or extremities
- 18% consisted of lacerations
- 15% were concussion, head injuries
- 15% were sprains to arms, legs or extremities
- 6% were contusions
Of course, the design and nature of the ride directly influences the types of injuries that may occur. For instance, slides on which a rider slides head-first are much more likely to produce traumatic brain injuries and cervical spine injuries.
A Façade of Safety Concerns Conceal the True Dangers of Water Slides?
Waterparks are aggressive in promoting themselves as a place for safe family fun. However according to the previously mentioned study by the CPSC, waterparks are the leading sub-category for injuries at amusement parks. The nationwide patchwork of sate-by-state regulatory approaches certainly does not help matters. 5 states have no regulatory framework and parks are expected to self-police. 11 states have delegated their duty to protect their citizens from unsafe conditions to private, third-party inspectors. What this amounts to is that two-thirds of the largest 15 waterparks in the nation face no governmental scrutiny or oversight. In light of the increasing number of injuries at waterparks, this lack of oversight and inspection calls into question the parks’ claims of safety.