While county fairs and carnivals held throughout the summer bring enjoyable fun, Ferris wheels and roller coasters, many hidden dangers may be lurking behind these entertaining attractions. This is because many summer carnival companies hire seasonal migrant workers who labor grueling hours under conditions that could threaten the safety and health of customers and workers alike.
Grueling Work Schedules
There are hundreds of traveling carnivals offering attractions to fill the midways of many state and county fairs all across North America. Most of them stay in business by hiring legal immigrants who often operate machinery 14 or more hours every day of the week. This heavy work schedule often leads to exhaustion, placing attraction ride patrons and the worker in great peril.
Once the contract is up, the carnival company maintains a tight schedule while breaking down the rides, and transporting them to be set up at the next destination. Most of these companies can move between locations in as little as 48 hours. In many incidences, this demanding timetable provides no downtime for the workers while ensuring the midway is operating fully at the new location.
Low Wage Workers
Many of these companies hire seasonal migrant workers because of the lower labor costs involved in contracting operators through an H-2B temporary work visa. Often times, these employees will be paid only for a 40 hour week, when their actual time on the job total 70 hours or more, without being paid additional compensation.
During the summer months, as many as 5000 migrant workers will be operating midways in North America. Many of them work for pay significantly lower than minimum wage, and without overtime, through a FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) provisional exemption.
Carnival Accidents Continue to Rise
Even though the carnival managers are operating their business within the law, the exhaustive work schedules create dangerous scenarios were accidents are bound to occur. Emergency room admissions tracked by the Consumer Product Safety Commission shows a substantial increase in the number of amusement ride accidents.
While the number totaled 30,000 ride-associated accidents in 2007, the statistics rose dramatically to more than 44,000 injuries by 2012. The statistics alone indicate that carnival managers are not always putting safety first for workers and fair goers.
Unfortunately, carnivals tend to operate on low profit margins. As a result, managers and amusement ride owners are continually incentivized to cut every corner possible, often at the expense of safety. Workers are typically operating machinery without proper training, or no training at all. Any minor problem can quickly become a catastrophic safety issue if the operator is unaware of what to do.
As long as the carnival industry remains competitive, maintaining a safe environment for riders and workers will always be an issue. The right to hire seasonal migrant workers below minimum wage might be a viable solution in a variety of industries. However, working carnival and county fair amusement ride operators, who are responsible for the safety of customers, exhaustively long hours for minimal pay, might not be the ideal place to cut expenses.