On Monday, the Kansas Department of Labor cited the park for violating state rules and regulations concerning operation, maintenance and training at the facility.
The notice includes violations on all 11 of the park’s permitted amusement rides. Auditors said the park lacks needed manufacturer’s manuals for its rides, written training procedures and proper safety signage, among other concerns.
On the Soaring Eagle zip line ride, “the main drive cable has not been replaced per manual requirements … and should be addressed,” auditors said.
The state said it considers the violations a first offense and issued a warning. It did not impose fines or require rides to close.
But the department pointedly told Schlitterbahn it “must comply” with its findings. Schlitterbahn is scheduled to open for the season on Friday.
In a statement, the company called some of the complaints administrative, and disputed others. It also accused the Kansas Department of Labor of improperly releasing “false and misleading” information.
“Our committment to safety remains our highest priority,” the statement said.
Still, the public should be deeply concerned about this latest chapter in the Schlitterbahn story.
Schlitterbahn management and staff had to know they would be under a safety microscope this year. Co-owner Jeff Henry has been charged with second-degree murder in connection with 10-year old Caleb Schwab’s death on the Verruckt water slide in August 2016.
Ride designer John Schooley and an affiliated construction firm also face charges, as does Tyler Miles, who worked at the park.
Schlitterbahn had the entire winter to prepare for the start of the season and a safety review. Yet records are missing; manuals are unavailable; and signs are uninstalled.
And the state’s on-site inspection last Wednesday and Thursday wasn’t a surprise. State officials said earlier this year they would review the park’s records before it opened.
Additionally, state officials told the park’s general manager on May 4 they would conduct an audit. That’s almost two weeks before the inspection took place.
Taken as a whole, the company’s apparent lack of attention to the state’s requirements reflects a slipshod approach to safety and oversight. That’s unacceptable for any amusement park, let alone one connected with a fatality.
The company can ask for a review of the citations. In the notice of violations, state inspectors say water park officials “did not dispute” the findings of the audit.
Kansas told Schlitterbahn it will conduct a follow-up audit later this year.
The state deserves credit for its hard-nosed look at Schlitterbahn. These rules aren’t red tape: They’re designed to protect public safety.
The water park must do everything it can to convince patrons it is more committed to safety than it has ever been. That means inspections, records, training, proper signs, all of it — transparent, thorough, open.
Otherwise, patrons will consider taking their summer business elsewhere, and they will be right to do so.