Monday, June 17, 2024
Monday, June 17, 2024
HomeAll The NewsSAFETY FIRST: Fall Festival Events: Harvest the Fun, Not the Risks

SAFETY FIRST: Fall Festival Events: Harvest the Fun, Not the Risks

Fall festivals dot the calendars for most churches and schools in all regions of the country. They usher in the harvest and mark the transition to shorter days. Ensuring fun for all takes careful planning and lots of volunteers. It also takes an understanding of the risks involved and diligence to ensure safety.

Anytime you rent equipment, a ride or attraction — whether it’s a tractor, pony rides or a dunk tank — talk to your insurance agent first. If applicable, do the following three things:

• Obtain a certificate of insurance from the owner.

Request that your organization be added as an additional insured to the owner’s insurance policy. Be prepared to pay a premium fee to be covered under the equipment owner and operator’s insurance policy.

• Execute a contract in which the operator agrees to hold you harmless, indemnify and defend you for any injuries or damages.

The Big 8 Guidelines

Before you consider safety measures for the specific activities discussed below, ask if your organization follows these eight guidelines, applicable to all events:

• Do you have staff and volunteers adequate for each activity and age group?

• Do you have a first aid station and offer hand sanitizing stations?

• Do you have communication radios and a command station?

• Do you have security procedures for collecting and safekeeping money for tickets and concessionaires?

• Do you perform a walk-through of the property to identify safety and security issues the week before, the morning of and during the event?

• Do participants sign waivers for high-risk events? Do you have signs posted at the main entrances to the festival and near attractions saying all rides are at the participants’ own risk?

• Did you talk to your insurance agent about liability exposure as it relates to your planned event?

• If your event spans multiple days, did you factor in overnight security for your property?


Every fall, thousands of churches across the nation sponsor hayrides. Unfortunately, these rides can sometimes lead to serious injuries. A quick online search for “hayride accidents” shows that some hayrides have gone terribly wrong and ended in death. Follow these suggestions to minimize the risks:

• Arrange to have a responsible person provide the tractor, wagon and driving services; one tow per hay wagon. In addition to the driver, include at least one adult monitor who has good visibility around and inside of each wagon.

• Review the route for hazards. Avoid on-road travel and rough terrain that would cause unsafe or dangerous jostling of participants.

• The wagon should have sturdy side panels and be equipped with adequate road safety lighting. Don’t use flatbed-type vehicles.

• Ensure that children sit as low as possible within the wagon.

• Insist that the tractor operator drives slowly on or off the road. High-gear, full-throttle speeds are unnecessary.

• Keep children away from parked or unattended tractors or wagons.

Dunk Tanks

Dunk tanks are another popular fall festival attraction, especially as a vehicle for fundraising.

• All dunk tank participants and supervisor/spotters should be age 18 or older and unimpeded by chronic neck or back issues. Dunkees should remove all jewelry, watches and glasses before entering the tank area.

• Manage the splash area. Make sure that tank placement allows for water to drain away quickly. Place non-slip mats around the tank to allow dunkees to safely enter and exit the tank.

• Only allow the supervisor/spotter to be near the mechanics (like the target area) of the tank. Do not allow observers behind or along the sides of the tank. This helps protect observers from being hit by an errant ball.

• Follow manufacturer’s standards for the depth of the water in relation to the height of the participant, and for weight restrictions. Ideally, a participant’s head would be above the water they fall into.

• Prevent drownings by using a protective cage around the tank so no one can accidentally fall into the water.

• Drain the tank when left unsupervised.


Trunk-or-treats events offer an alternative to walking through neighborhoods and knocking on strangers’ doors. The idea is to decorate the trunks of various vehicles and distribute candy in a personalized and fun way. Children can go car to car, receive candy and enjoy the themes and decorations. Trunk-or-treats also offer an opportunity to reach out to the community with the gospel and a positive message about your church or school.

• Clearly designate and secure separate areas for participating cars; parking for attending families; and games, food or entertainment. The goal is to ensure that arriving/exiting vehicles are a sufficient distance from areas where children are gathered.

• Designate a time for participants to decorate their cars prior to the start of the event. This ensures that no cars will be moving during the event.

• Cars should remain off during the event.

• Use volunteers to safely monitor and provide security for the event. Station volunteers should guide trunk-or-treat vehicles into their spaces, direct the flow of traffic for arriving/exiting attendees and ensure children follow a one-way path through the treat area.

• Allow only prepackaged treats to be given away.

• Require parental supervision for all children.

• Ensure good lighting if your event takes place after dusk.

Petting Zoos, Barnyard Critters and Pony Rides

Nothing pairs better with kids than critters. Even though the owners should remain with the animals and guide participation, there are safety concerns here, too:

• Ensure that animals are in a contained, corralled area and along the walking path (for ponies), supervised by the owners and up-to-date on vaccinations.

• Offer handwashing stations near the animals.

• For pony rides, require that parents accompany minors on all pony rides and participants wear provided head gear.

• If your festival is more than one day, ensure that the owner provides security for the animals corralled in the evening and overnight hours.

Corn & Straw Bale Mazes

It may seem corny, but it’s critical to do a walk through prior to, during and after closing the maze for the day. Look for lost souls, debris and tipping/tripping hazards. Some localities have enacted additional rules for maze operators, so check what’s required in addition to these guidelines:

• Post clear rules that outline a no-smoking policy, age limit for unaccompanied children and behavior expectations.

• Ensure that maze paths are large enough to allow access for emergency response vehicles and/or their equipment. Provide a diagram of the paths.

• Use elevated platforms to station observers in various locations throughout the maze. Equip all monitors with radios or phones to communicate with each other. Prohibit participants on elevated platforms.

• Create a maze evacuation plan and practice it several times.

• Prominently display “No Smoking or Flame-producing Devices” signs and keep water for fire suppression quickly available.

Inflatable Amusements

Inflatable amusements like bounce houses and slides can provide a lot of fun for children. However, they can also lead to fractures, sprains, knocked out teeth and head injuries when they aren’t properly set up or supervised. You can prevent many of these injuries by following manufacturers’ guidelines for set-up, operation and supervision.

• Ensure that the inflatable object is moored to the ground using every anchor point provided, plus the recommended sandbags or weights. Do not operate in high winds, rain or with lightning in the area.

• A team of responsible adults must supervise the inflatable at all times and ensure the recommended capacity is not exceeded.

• Require participants to remove shoes, jewelry, eyeglasses, hair clips and other sharp objects that may injure others. Prohibit food, drink or gum in the unit.

• Separate children of different ages and abilities, so that larger children don’t accidentally hurt the smaller ones.

• Prohibit flips and rough play. Don’t let children sit or lie down while others are bouncing around them.

Portable Climbing Walls

Multiple safety obligations are required when using a portable climbing wall. Accidents arising from using a climbing wall can be severe, if not fatal. It’s not just the risk of falling that’s of concern — the belay system (ropes) can cause burns, fractures or amputation injuries.

• Only trained staff should monitor the device while in use and ensure that all belay systems, harnesses and safety mats are checked before each use, appropriate for the use and fully functional.

• Monitor the weather — due to the potential for structural collapse and hydraulic lift system failure, do not allow wall use in high wind, rain or lightning.

• In many states, portable climbing walls may be subject to state safety inspections and/or registration requirements. Ministry leaders should contact a local attorney for guidance on this issue.

Food Sales

What’s a fall festival without caramel apples, chili cook-offs and more? Keep the food delicious and foodborne illnesses at bay with these tips:

• Determine if you will offer food prepared on-site or packaged food. Ask if the board of health needs to inspect food sale areas.

• Check whether a permit may be required if the event involves the sale or service of food to the public and the event spans more than one day.

• Keep attendees away from heat sources, such as a grill or gas stove, smoker or electric device.

• Keep handy a fire suppression system at all areas where food is cooked.

• Require food workers to review safe food handling guidelines. Download these charts from and distribute them to workers.

• Provide refrigeration to keep food safe from spoilage.

Drone Use

Flying drones can be a fun way to record your festival with sweeping, bird’s-eye footage of the property and attendees, but drones also come with serious risks. Single-drone crashes can cause severe injuries and property damage, despite the aircraft generally being lightweight.

In addition to safety concerns, there are also privacy concerns. Any photos or videos of event participants may require signed releases prior to publication. Before using a drone at your festival, weigh the benefit with the risk by reading Drone Safety Guidelines found at