OSHA and Disneyland: Artistic Compromises Made in the Name of Safety
Walt Disney created Disneyland to take its guests away from the real world and immerse them into a pure world of fantasy. He created a world in which his guests could leisurely walk through and be part of his famous films. In order to do this, Walt did everything he could to completely control how the buildings and rides looked.  A full-sized River Boat from the Bayou and Sleeping Beauty’s Castle are some of the most iconic structures in his world famous park. However, reality is that Walt and the Disney Company don’t have total control over everything in this magical kingdom. At the core, Disneyland is a private park with a series of structures and buildings located in the state of California. This means that, just like any other building in California, everything in the park is subject to safety regulation laws of the state. Though effective story telling is the essence and foundation of Disneyland, safety of the guests and employees is paramount. The government entity that keeps an eye on safety at theme parks like Disneyland is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
What is OSHA?
“The Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), better known as Cal/OSHA, protects workers from health and safety hazards on the job in almost every workplace in California through its research and standards, enforcement, and consultation programs. Cal/OSHA also oversees programs promoting public safety on elevators, amusement rides, and ski lifts. In addition, the division oversees programs promoting the safe use of pressure vessels (e.g., boilers and tanks).”  Long story short, OSHA is the government entity that makes sure that theme parks like Disneyland are safe and up to regulation.
Examples of OSHA Citations at Disneyland
Disneyland has been cited in the past for some violations of OSHA regulations. The following examples all pertain to a very popular roller coaster-type ride called “Space Mountain.” Some violations are relatively minor, like the failure to have an “Operating Procedures and Outline Sheet.” This violation is categorized as “General.”  Another “General” violation is the failure to have fire extinguishers with a current annual maintenance inspection check.  A more serious violation, categorized as “Willful Serious” is the failure to have guardrails for maintenance workers. 
2013 Mass Shutdown Incident
In response to OSHA citations, Disneyland once simultaneously shut down three highly popular rides, “Space Mountain,” the “Matterhorn” and “Soarin’ Over California” to make fixes that would protect employee safety. To be clear, the closures were not related to guest safety.  This was a relatively big blow to the Disneyland Resort because it gave rise to many disappointed guests who usually prioritize these three rides in their visits to the resort.
Example of Artistic Compromises
Disney has created countless amazing buildings and stage sets that never cease to take one’s breath away. However sometimes there must be compromises made in artistic decisions in order to comply with OSHA standards and ensure the safety of employees and guests. A good example of this compromise can be seen by comparing the before and after photos of changes made to the exterior of the “Alice in Wonderland” ride in Fantasyland.
This ride is a popular one, where the guests travel through Wonderland at a leisurely pace in a vehicle shaped like a caterpillar. A large part of the ride consists of overly large flora that is designed to give the effect of the guest “shrinking” to the size of a bug, just as Alice does in her film. Below is a photo of how the ride looked before the change. Though this particular photo is quite dated, you can see that the large leaves that create the track for the ride vehicle have no guard rails.
Eventually, “[certain] hazards  forced Disneyland to close Alice in Wonderland until temporary scaffolding could be erected with guardrails.”  Below is a photo of the same ride after the guard rails were added onto the aforementioned giant leaf tracks. The top right corner of the photo is the leaf track seen in the “before” photo. As you can see, in addition to the unsightly guard rails, there are also tarps underneath. Though the guardrail and tarp took away from the “magic” of being “shrunk” to the size of a bug, it was an artistic compromise that had to be made for the safety of the guests and employees.
Eventually the temporary guard rails and tarps were replaced by more permanent fixes. The ride also received an upgrade in technology, which greatly improved the show elements in the interior, so the “magic” is back in full gear at this ride. Disneyland is the place where “Dreams Come True,” but safety is paramount and The Walt Disney Company must occasionally make compromises in their vision of a perfect world of fantasy.
1) [“The Imagineering Field Guide to Disneyland”]
Cover Photo by: Tours Departing Daily under Creative Commons License.