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Joelle Javier tests the Behemoth, a roller coaster at Canada's Wonderland.
Joelle Javier.

Keeping Thrill-Seekers Safe

Safety specialist Joelle Javier uses her engineering knowledge to make sure amusement park riders don't get hurt

Roller coaster enthusiasts, take heart: according to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, your chance of being seriously injured on an amusement park ride is only about 1 in 24 million. For that you can thank people like Joelle Javier (BASc 2010), a safety associate with Ontario’s Technical Safety Standards Authority. Here, she reveals the ups and downs of her job to Cynthia Macdonald.

As an engineer trained in materials science, what do you do for the Safety Authority?
I review design submissions when there’s a new amusement park ride, or an alteration to an existing one. I also cover elevators and ski lifts. Much of what I do is on paper, but sometimes I go on inspections too.

Beyond the 150-kilometres-per-hour drop on some rides, how concerned should I be about inattentive operators and faulty equipment?
Training is very important – we track documentation to ensure operators are trained on each separate ride they run. And better regulations are making rides safer: we’re now harmonizing international rules, and almost all of the provinces have their own safety authorities.

Are travelling carnivals less safe than fixed parks?
Some people have that perception because a lot of a ride’s wear and tear happens during transportation. But in reality, operation and inspection standards are the same for both.

Do you ever get to act as a guinea pig for the rides?
Yes – that’s what I love best! I recently tested the Slingshot at Canada’s Wonderland. It shoots you 90 metres into the air.

Heartpounding! Watch how the Slingshot works at Canada’s Wonderland:

So what’s your favourite ride?
I like the swinging and spinning ones, and those that take you as high as you can go. In the future, we’re going to see more hybrid-type rides such as “watercoasters,” a mix of waterslide and roller coaster. We’ll also see roller coasters using magnets instead of chains, so you won’t hear that creaking sound as you go up.

Really? That’s the scariest part.
I know, I love it too!

First we had shoulder restraints, and now they’re taking away our beloved creaks…could it be that rides are getting too safe?
Sometimes people feel that way, especially when they ride over and over. When that happens they’ll try to think of ways to make a ride more exciting. Like standing up: kids do that a lot on ferris wheels, or the Scrambler.

Wow, I can’t believe the Scrambler’s still around. What other silly things do patrons do?
A big problem right now is selfie sticks. People always want to take pictures of themselves going on rides, which isn’t smart.

I’ll say! You used to lose nickels and dimes on those rides. Who wants to lose a $500 smartphone?

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