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Cast Member Safety is Good Show

Friday, April 19, 2013

Disneyland's been getting a lot of press lately for temporary (but in most cases still ongoing) closure of several major attractions at both Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure, due to OSHA violations. It was unfortunate timing; between these closures and other downtime for refurbishment, many Guests were left frustrated by unavailability of their favorite rides, and/or long lines as the parks struggled to keep up with demand under limited capacity on a busy Saturday. Contrary to early reports, Disney was not forced by OSHA to close the attractions; Disney chose to do so, after OSHA served notice to them regarding lack of progress on previous violations which still remained unaddressed.

Disneyland's also gotten a bit of well-deserved flack for their response to an OSHA violation regarding Alice in Wonderland; while they did take action to address the violation, for some period of months (years?) the attraction had some rather unattractive tarp draping over the support columns for required guardrails which prevent workers from falling when maintaining the tracks.

All this commotion got me thinking about Cast Member safety at Disney Parks. Is Disney more or less safe for its employees than similar employers? So I headed on over to the OSHA web site, where one can search a number of databases for information on occupational health and safety in the United States. I looked at information for the OSHA SIC code 7996, which explicitly includes theme parks, and is described as "Establishments of the type known as amusement parks and kiddie parks which group together and operate in whole or in part a number of attractions, such as mechanical rides, amusement devices, refreshment stands, and picnic grounds."

I found that in the years 2002-2012 in this industry segment, there were 84 Accident Investigation Summaries (OSHA 170 form), which are developed after OSHA conducts a workplace inspection in response to a fatality or catastrophe. Of those 84, 27 were attributed to either Disneyland or Walt Disney World (the data's available from OSHA for anyone who'd like to do further analysis). That's 32%, which seems like a somewhat low number given Disney's prominence in the theme/amusement park industry, especially when one considers that the resort hotels are included in these reports (most similar companies do not operate as extensive a network of hotels).

Mind you, these OSHA reports only reflect incidents that were reported (not necessarily anybody's fault), and there are probably plenty of people who suffer minor injuries on the job that do not receive medical care, and/or go unreported (more on that in a bit). And of course, Disney's a big employer, so there will undoubtedly be many incidents. I'm sure most readers here will already be aware of the Cast Member who died while piloting Monorail Purple in 2009, and the Cast Member who was run over by a parade float and died in 2004. But there are plenty of incidents large and small of which most of us would be unaware. A Cast Member who lost a fingertip to a food processor. A Cast Member hospitalized after falling off a shipping dock. A Cast Member who died after a vaccuum cleaner and a floor polishing machine ran into each other.

Now, you might ask how these reports break down between Disneyland and Walt Disney World. I found that 21 of the reports were from Disneyland, and just six were from Walt Disney World. So you might think that Walt Disney World is the safer place to work, but it turns out that of the eight fatalities reported in the time period I studied, five took place at Walt Disney World, and just three at Disneyland. So, perhaps there's some other factor artificially driving down the number of injury reports at Walt Disney World, such as emergency medical services on site in Reedy Creek (which might reduce the number of hospital personnel asking whether an injury was job-related). In fact, it seems likely that if some factor is keeping the number of injury reports artificially low for Walt Disney World, it might just substantially increase their share of these reports across the industry, bringing it closer to the proportion you'd expect given their industry dominance.

Cast Members' health and safety matters. Mind you, I don't see any reason why this health and safety has to mean "bad show" (if I can find close to $100/day to walk into their theme parks, Disney can find a way to address workplace safety without long-term, ugly tarps). Cast Member safety is an important part of "good show" for me.

I'd be interested in hearing theories about why Walt Disney World's injury reports are so much lower than Disneyland's, especially given the comparative fatality rates. If for any reason you don't want to leave your notes in the comments section below, please drop me a note at jennifer@studioscentral.com.