The State Fair & Outdoor Festival Safety Loophole

The State Fair & Outdoor Festival Safety Loophole

Self Regulation and the Lack of Incentives to Protect Attendees from Harm

Jeffrey S. Downs

The Indiana State Fair Collapse that caused death and injury to fans waiting to see the band Sugarland has indeed raised awareness as regards to the safety of those in attendance at outdoor venues.  Yet, this tragedy is not a fluke, and a lack of safety measures at these fairs and outdoor festivals caused five more deaths and over 140  additional injuries were reported when a severe storm hit an outdoor rock festival just 50 miles from Brussels at the Belgian Pukkelpop Outdoor Rock Festival just days after the Indiana State Fair collapse.  A myriad of safety concerns loom and many questions remain unanswered.  It is clear that a self regulated industry lacks the internal incentive to optimize safety for those in attendance at these outdoor venues.  Take for example, the Indiana State Fair inspections, or lack thereof, illustrating a staggering loophole in safety.  This tragedy has spokesmen for several agencies pointing the finger at another in an attempt to illustrate that someone had the responsibility to inspect the stage design and structure at the venue.  However, when an outdoor venue is on state property, the only way to ensure proper and adequate safety for those in attendance is to have a properly developed Ride Safety Amusement Statutes that will enforce penalties for lack of inspections and safety violations.   

It is a fact that there is no federal oversight or inspections over fixed-site amusements and fairs, and this holds true when the structure or outdoor venue is on state owned property.  While the Consumer Product Safety Commission has jurisdiction over traveling amusements, it does not have jurisdiction over fixed-site amusements as it engenders the competing interests regarding federalism and preemption of state law.  While some would argue that Congress has the power to regulate local outdoor venues due to the interstate travel and economic effect on interstate commerce, and the potential that local incidents have a substantial and harmful impact upon commerce, this is not a reality.  Whether or not you fall on the side of the argument that the safety of interstate travelers should trump state sovereignty arguments, local and state regulatory action is necessary to close the loophole on the safety violations at these outdoor local venues. 

While there is a myriad of safety concerns regarding outdoor venues, the top two priorities should be: (1) requiring the design of the outdoor structure to meet a host of standards that will require a set of design specification that will withstand unpredictable weather conditions; and (2) requiring set protocols as to weather scanning and evacuation procedures in the event of an approaching storm.  Working together these two considerations will assist in holding-off a collapse of the venue during an orderly and quick evacuation to safety.  If those reaping the monetary benefits of your attendance will not protect you, demand that your local state requires someone to oversee the safety at these events.