Coal Tattoo


We’re used to hearing the coal industry complain about permits … but this is a story about a different kind of permit — one that organizers of the Labor Day Friends of America rally didn’t get until after the fact.

It seems that a little more than a week before Monday’s event, organizers decided they needed something for the kids to do besides listen to speeches by Don Blankenship and Sean Hannity or music from Hank Jr. So, they turned to Thompson Catering, a Winchester, Ky., company that does a lot of business providing party tents and such for Massey Energy corporate events.

Thompson hauled in seven inflatable amusement rides — bouncers and slides — and also brought in a subcontractor to provide some sort of climbing wall.

But, it turns out that Thompson Catering’s rides had not been inspected or licensed in advance by the safety section at the West Virginia Division of Labor, as required by state law.  The rides started up anyway, but were temporarily shut down while the company scrambled around to get an inspection and a state permit — one that appears to have come too late to meet the legal requirements.

“We were in compliance with them,” Thompson Catering owner Tommy Thompson told me today. “It was just a little after the fact.”

W.Va. Code 21-10-6 spells out the licensing requirements pretty clearly:

No operator or owner may knowingly permit the operation of an amusement ride or amusement attraction without a permit issued by the Division. Each year and at least fifteen days before the first time the amusement ride or amusement attraction is made available in this state for public use, an operator or owner shall apply for a permit to the Division on a form furnished by the Division and containing any information the Division may require. The Division shall, upon application and within ten days of the first time the ride or attraction is made available in this state for public use, inspect all amusement rides and amusement attractions. The Division shall inspect all stationary rides and attractions at least once every year. The Division may inspect all mobile amusement rides and amusement attractions each time they are disassembled and reassembled for use in this state. The Division may conduct inspections at any reasonable time without prior notice: Provided, That in lieu of performing its own inspection, the Division may accept inspection reports from special inspectors certified by the Division.

The labor division also provides this helpful “Fact Sheet” that spells out the requirements of the 1988 law. Note that, as allowed by the statute, the labor division will accept inspections by someone from a list of private inspectors approved by the agency.

Jama Jarrett, a labor division spokeswoman,  said today that agency officials learned of Thompson Catering’s setup for the Friends of America rally the night before the event and sent an inspector there to check things out.  (Thompson thinks one of his competitors called the state on him). Jarrett explained:

When the Division encounters devices that are not registered and inspected, it issues cease and desist orders, and the devices cannot operate until all requirements are met.

Now, remember what the state law says:  An operator of these sorts of rides must submit a permit application to DOL at least fifteen days before the first time the ride is made available in this state for public use.

But, Jarrett said in an e-mail message:

In this case, DOL worked with the owner to obtain registration and proof of insurance. The owner was able to find an inspector (DOL uses third party, private inspectors) who would inspect.

DOL enforces the law, but it also works with companies to help them comply with the law; as shutting down amusement devices can have a detrimental effect on the event.

Jarrett said the rides were already in use when the DOL staffer arrived at 9:15  a.m., thought the event was not scheduled to start until 10:30 a.m. The rides were shut down for several hours for the inspection, she said.

State law allows for both civil and criminal penalties for operating amusement rides without a permit. It’s not clear if the state plans to take any such action in this instance. Jarrett did say that Thompson had to pay the required additional inspection fee of $75 per hour, including travel time for the state inspector.

Think this is all really not that important?

Well, earlier this summer, Consumer Reports warned that  accidents and injuries involving kids on these inflatable rides were on the rise … and the results can be anything from broken bones to chipped teeth. And, sometimes the ride structures can deflate unexpectedly, trapping kids inside. According to Consumer Reports:

The newest numbers from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which were last updated in 2005, are sobering. The CPSC reported four fatalities in inflatable-related accidents from 2002 to 2005. In 2004, the most recent year for which we found complete data, inflatable rides, such as inflatable slides and bouncers, accounted for an estimated 4,900 injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms, according to the agency. That was up sharply from 1997, when the CPSC estimated only 1,300 such injuries — a whopping 277 percent increase in just eight years (a time in which inflatables grew in popularity).

Luckily, Thompson’s equipment passed all of its inspections … once the company got around to seeking state permits.