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Disneyland's Space Mountain closes after State of California alleges unsafe working conditions for maintenance crews

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Published: April 14, 2013 at 11:45 AM

The State of California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health has proposed nearly a quarter million dollars in penalties for the Disneyland Resort for alleged safety violations on Disneyland's Space Mountain ride. The allegations involve reported failures to provide safe working conditions for maintenance personnel on the ride and its show building, and do not involve Disneyland guests.

Space Mountain

Space Mountain was closed at Disneyland yesterday and remains closed today. In addition, Soarin' Over California was closed yesterday and today and the Matterhorn and Splash Mountain were closed yesterday, which promoted speculation by Disney fans on Twitter that those rides were also affected by the DOSH action. However, I've found only a state report regarding Space Mountain.

The state is proposing $234,850 in penalties for six violations, ranging from improper recording-keeping and a lack of fire extinguishers to the failure to provide guard rails and gates on maintenance platforms inside and outside the ride's building. Disneyland may appeal, if it chooses.

The three most serious allegations: (called "willful" in the report):

"Disneyland Resort failed to correct the unsafe work practice of employees of both Disneyland Resort and HSG, Inc. accessing the upper and lower exterior platforms of a building (Space Mountain) by means of unsafe ladderways."

"During the course of the inspection and prior, the employer, Disneyland Resort, failed to provide guardrails on all open sides of unenclosed elevated work locations more than 30 inches above the floor, ground, or other working areas of a building (Space Mountain) at Disneyland Resort. Employees of Disneyland Resort and HSG, Inc. accessed the upper exterior platform of Space Mountain to perform routine and also non-routine maintenance and were not protected by guardrails or any other type of fall protection."

"The ladderway floor opening on the lower exterior platform of a building (Space Mountain) did not have a swinging gate or equivalent protection, nor was it offset, to prevent a person from walking directly into the opening."

The state has posted a copy of its report on the Cal/OSHA website. The report covers inspections of the ride between November 11, 2012 and April 10 of this year.

I've emailed Disneyland media relations representatives for a response.

Update: And here it is: "We constantly strive to maintain a safe work environment for our cast members and contractors and we are reviewing certain protocols," Disneyland said in a statement. "We have received notification of the citations and are working with OSHA to fully review them."

A Disneyland spokesperson emphasized that Disney closed Space Mountain and Soarin' Over California voluntarily, and not as the result of any state mandate. "OSHA citations prompted a re-review of our safety protocols for cast members and contractors, which is why the two attraction are closed today," the Disneyland representative wrote in an email.

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Readers' Opinions

From Rob Pastor on April 14, 2013 at 1:44 PM
Sometimes these safety requirements are a bit over the top, but in reading the complaint it looks like Disney is guilty of some sloppy management here. As an example, there's really no legitimate reason not to keep your fire extinquisher records to date. The government entitity that I represented a union for had selected management employees designated, as a small part of their job, to check & sign off fire extinguishers each month. Easy to do, not really time consuming, & an important safety & insurance factor. Some of the other violations relating to sloppy record keeping are also inexcusable for a large corporation. But, of course, there's always two sides to a story. But the fact Disney had former problems with a couple of Fantasyland rides, indicates they should have been a little more diligent knowing the state safety inspectors were targeting them.
From Gabriel Schroll on April 14, 2013 at 2:11 PM
Imagine saving 3 years worth of Yen or RMB so you can come enjoy a beautiful Southern California Spring, walking into Disneyland and not being able to enjoy those rides! On a Saturday and Sunday, no less! Not only are those rides down, but because they're down, all the other attractions' lines will be that much longer.

Not a good weekend to spend at the parks. Guest Relations must be workin really hard right about now!

From Anthony Murphy on April 14, 2013 at 2:17 PM
I am curious on what the violations would be since these attractions also appear at WDW and while Disney World does not have a clean record from OSHA, most of their problems come from live shows, not actual attractions.

I know that California does tend to be very regulatory heavy, so I wonder if WDW's versions would have failed as well.

I think the bigger issue is that DL got pinged, not that the rides are down. Ride break down all the time. While these are popular attractions, they are only a small fraction of attractions at the parks.

From Skipper Adam on April 14, 2013 at 2:39 PM
Disneyland attractions and WDW attractions are usually similar in name only and some aesthetics. On a whole, most versions of the rides between the coasts are vastly different. In fact, the Space Mountain rides are not identical at all.

As a CM, I see it all the time. Sudden new safety requirements that need to be implemented. It's not that Disney doesn't bother with the changes, it's that it's hard to keep up. However, it's still not a great excuse.

From Rob Pastor on April 14, 2013 at 2:54 PM
A number of these violations are typical requirements, ie. fire extinguisher updates & records. Really no excuse for that one. Some of the upper management people need to visit the parks sometimes instead of hiding in their office cubicles. At least the new Disney President isn't afraid to come into the parks.
From Russell Meyer on April 15, 2013 at 6:44 AM
I wouldn't call myself an OSHA expert (or a CalOSHA expert for that matter), but I do understand regulations, and know some people who have to wade through the additional voluminous tommes of regulations that make up the CalOSHA standards. The fire extinguisher deal is pretty inexcusable, but as someone who's been tasked with maintaining a fleet of fire extinguishers, it's not the easiest thing in the world. Typically, you hire a subcontractor to perform the inspections for you, and it's their responsibility to update the physical tags on the units and provide a report to be filed with past inspections. I have no idea how Disneyland performs their inspections, but my guess would be that they also hire an outside contractor, and it's very likely that the tags on the units were not updated or replaced. With probably thousands of extinguishers mounted all over the park, it should have probably been the responsibility of the maintenance techs and ride ops to notice that the tags were never updated. However, I can certainly understand overlooking this item, as it's probably not part of their routine maintenance check. In fact, some agencies are re-evaluating fire extinguisher requirements, because far too often people attempt to fight fires that they shouldn't because there are so many fire extinguishers nearby. There are a few hundred recorded cases every year of people incurring injuries by attempting to fight a fire because they see a fire extinguisher so close to the blaze.

For the other 2 noted issues, it does appear like a regulatory agency trolling for cash. Firstly, I think it's simply absurd to require toeboards or fall protection for a 30-inch differential. Theoretically, someone could die tripping over a 1" high cable or buckle in the pavement/walkway, so the US-OSHA standard of fall protection/engineering controls required for workers at a height of 6 feet is more than reasonable (Europe has updated their standard to 4 feet). However, to require that same level of protection for a 30-inch fall is simply absurd, and the total definition of a "Nanny state". Workers are trained and those training records are maintained and updated to protect employers from lawsuits originating from minor falls, which a 30-inch fall would be categorized as in my opinion. 30-inches is by no means a small distance to fall (far less than most steps), but think about how many times you traverse a 30-inch distance, and how simple 3-point contact would protect you from an injury.

The ladder issue is obviously an inspector looking to get paid. In fact, the inspector probably knew those ladders were there before he came to Disneyland, and either a new regulation or reinterpretation of an existing regulation had recently been established but it was at the top of their list to score some needed funding for a state approaching bankruptcy.

Having known people that have had to deal with CalOSHA, this is nothing new. These trolls establish regulations that are far beyond sensible protection for workers, bury rules in thousands of pages of legal jargon, and then visit known employers with deep pockets just to fund the next round of inspections and pensions for the retired state employees. Disneyland was probably wise to take the high road here considering the minor nature of these citations, but the mafia-esque behavior of this agnecy is not garnering any respect within the safety industry or with safety experts.

From Rob Pastor on April 15, 2013 at 7:29 AM
The fact that Disney did an assessment study in 2006 to address the state's safety concerns & rectify the problems, then promptly ignored it for 7 years, leads me to believe they simply thought they could get away with spending the money to correct the issues. This was not the first incident concerning these safety issues. The fines are probably small change compared to corrective construction costs. If Disney thought they were in the right on this issue, I doubt they would have immediately shut down the rides on their own volition. A number of these violations are for not submitting required paperwork. With all of the management employees, close by at Disney headquarters , one would think that someone had responsibility for that. Yes, safety rules are sometimes cumbersome. But if small companies can understand and implement the proper policies, a large corporation should be held to the standard. It's not like the state safety agency is always picking on Disney. Sounds more like a case of enough is enough already. And, fire extingishers are not an insignificant matter. Fire marshalls throughout government jurisdictions enforce those regs since they are often crucial in preventing a small problem from becoming a larger one. It's so darn easy to keep track of whether extinguishers are current that its just completely irresponsible not to.
From Brent Moody on April 15, 2013 at 8:34 AM
I was at Disneyland on Saturday and was VERY disappointed when we went into the park and half of the e-ticket rides were closed. It was only the second time I have ever gotten to go to Disneyland in my life cause I live in Arkansas and it is a pretty good ways to get there. I only had Saturday to be there so it is not like going another day was optional. I totally understand that safety is very important but if the Matterhorn was not part of this problem then they should have done everything in their power to have it open that day since Space Mountain was not an option to be opened. It just seemed like it was kind of a screw you to Disney guest on Saturday because the problems were problems caused by Disney itself it is not as if it was something that was out of their control.
From Jay R. on April 15, 2013 at 2:39 PM
I rode Space Mountain, Matterhorn, & Soarin' all last week, so I'm glad I went then! Although I think Matterhorn was on the closed for refurbishment list for this week anyway!

From Aaron McMahon on April 15, 2013 at 8:45 PM
"I was at Disneyland on Saturday and was VERY disappointed when we went into the park and half of the e-ticket rides were closed."

So Space, Matterhorn and Big Thunder were closed...that's still 1/5 of the "E Tickets" you still had Splash, Indiana Jones, the original Pirates, Haunted Mansion, Finding Nemo, Star Tours. That's more e Tickets than you'll find at any of the WDW parks.

From Brent Moody on April 16, 2013 at 5:36 AM
Aaron, you listed 6 more rides (which I do NOT consider Finding Nemo E ticket unless you are 7 and it was 62 degrees and cloudy so not very many people were riding Splash Mountain unless they wanted to freeze) but anyways even if we include those in your argument that is still 1/3 closed not 1/5 closed. IMO that is way to many rides closed. Trust me I love Disney, but it was very disappointing to have so many rides closed on the one day we were able to go to Disneyland. I am not really sure why you felt as if you had to point out that there were a couple more that half the rides open and act like I should have been just fine with that because "that's more E tickets than you'll find at any of the WDW parks". If I wanted what WDW parks had I would have just gone there instead. Sorry but I feel like if you are going to take 100% of the money for the ticket than you should have a little more than 66% of the rides available.
From Russell Meyer on April 16, 2013 at 7:53 AM
Rob:

I'll tell you for a fact that many small companies don't understand the rules, because most do not have the resources to hire safety professionals to translate the reams of regulations. However, the small businesses are not regularly audited because violations are typically small and cost the state more money than they generate.

I'm in no way saying that Disney was in the right, but it's no doubt the State of California was trolling for some cash and went to a reliable source.

From Rob Pastor on April 16, 2013 at 8:22 AM
Russell: Generally I agree with your thoughts. You're always very professional & knowledgable. But on this circumstance I disagree. I've seen similar fines in our state for construction accidents under the same type of circumstances to companies that are not very large. Concerning Disney, this situation dates back to 2006. They had a problem then and did not correct it. They even did their own assessment study and didn't implement the needed corrections. Then this media reported injury incident happened in November which sent up a red flag causing a revisiting of the problem. Generally these agencies only react to employee complaints, which this was. They don't have the manpower to continually check safety procedures. The Fantasyland incident was also keyed by an employee injury. The fine largely reflects that Disney was "aware" of the problem and did not correct it. The 2.5 ft. criteria seems harsh, but in this case that was moot since the employee fell 15 ft. Disney is actually fortunate the injuries weren't more severe considering the fall's distance. Yes, I agree that many of the safety restrictions are onerous and complicated. But, from all the reading I've done on this situation, I don't think that came into play. Bottom line appears that Disney was previously made aware of the potential for injury and did nothing to alleviate the problem. They did not keep proper records. And, the Safety bureau, did not shut down the attractions, Disney made that call, so that indicates their legal was very concerned with the potential for more problems.
From 68.4.191.123 on April 16, 2013 at 2:13 PM
So, does anyone know when they will reopen? I have checked Disneys website but I can't seem to find an answer. We are visiting from Connecticut and are only here until Saturday.
From Aaron McMahon on April 16, 2013 at 7:42 PM
I have never been to Disneyland so it would be a couple times in a lifetime visit. Even though it would suck that three attractions were down at the park two of them (Space and Big Thunder)aren't really specific to Disneyland and Matterhorn is supposed to be completely unrideable now. I would easily find enough to do in a day like go the classic 50 year old rides and the attractions that only can be found at Disneyland (Pirates, Indiana Jones) before missing some roller coasters I can ride in Florida. You have to expect that major rides will be down on the offseason.
From Vickie OConnor on April 19, 2013 at 10:57 AM
When you have that many attractions down at one time you either need to discount the tickets or give people something else of value.

It is very disappointing to get to a theme park to find more than one of the popular rides out of service.

From Gary Knackstedt on April 19, 2013 at 7:07 PM
I agree with Brent and Vickie.

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