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December has arrived and for all of us who spent the last month changing the channel at the sight of the man on the moon ad, it’s officially time to be festive. I feel much more able to cope now the advent countdown is in full swing so will happily be enjoying a mulled wine or two over the typical mad dash to the 25th!
 
For the last few years, being jolly and festive at Christmas in Edinburgh has seen an increasing number of ‘thrills’ on offer. Yes, you could say you’re spoiled for choice on how you’d prefer to be suspended over a hundred feet in the air. And suspended in the air is just how some revellers found themselves over the opening weekend of Edinburgh’s Christmas, with reports stating more than 100 people were trapped on the main attraction of the big wheel for over three quarters of an hour.

In previous years the attractions have seen visitors to the capital exceed a quarter of a million over just one weekend. The markets and activities are a big draw for residents of the city and visitors from Scotland and beyond. With such popularity and such high risk, however, comes responsibility and I have to wonder if this responsibility is being treated as seriously as it ought to be.
 
As predictable as the arrival of advent and Christmas trees appearing in shops in October, December in Scotland brings with it high winds, gale force gusts and endless rain (at least that’s been the way over the last 5 years). The Big Wheel ride was reportedly stopped after such high winds triggered a safety alert. It’s the operator of amusement rides who has immediate control and responsibility for the safe operation of their rides. Their obligations on safety include the likes of gathering up to date weather information and forecast data to ensure rides can operate safely and that adverse weather is not going to impact on their safe operation. The weather forecast for the same weekend warned ‘Gales will develop’ and that ‘winds…could be locally severe' adding ‘though this is not unusual for this time of the year’. The forecast proved accurate, as forecasts and severe weather warnings tend to be these days, as much as we’d all like the weather to deliver a lighter blow.
 
Whilst most of us will assess weather conditions from time to time by glancing at apps on phones the operators of amusements are required to take a professional approach and ensure they are fully informed not only of the weather conditions at the time but the likelihood of changing weather conditions if this will have an impact on the rides they are operating.
 
It’s a short season and small window for those businesses looking to maximise their income over the festive period. Naturally, companies will want to make the most of the season and have their attractions full of participants, but if gales or gale force winds are likely or a risk and would have an adverse effect on the safe operation of a ride, to me it’s a simple matter. In such circumstances the ride needs to cease before anyone takes to the sky. There is simply no excuse for failing to take proper precautions.
 
It’s not the first time there has been reports of safety concerns at Edinburgh’s Christmas market. In 2013 the Star Flyer ride was closed when part of the seat broke off and crashed to the ground in its former St Andrew square home. The same ride operating at T in the park was the subject of adverse reports only 6 months later when injuries were suffered by a number of those on the ride after a malfunction caused it to jolt to a sudden stop.
 
It therefore seems only little comfort that the weather warnings issued over last weekend kept the big wheel from turning, this time. This should also have happened the weekend before. Where the safety of ride users is concerned it shouldn’t take an incident occurring before a system is put in place, the system is required in law when adverse weather is predicted. Matters become somewhat more confusing with reports suggesting Underbelly, the event organiser’s spokesperson told media the big wheel ‘Is not open if high winds are forecast’. This is as it should be to ensure safety, but clearly not what occurred over the opening weekend. So why did those people get stuck? For the moment I’d only be speculating.  
 
The organisers of events like this need to show safety, not profit is paramount. In my view the paying public can only be reassured by an investigation in respect of the decision to keep the ride going, in spite of the predicted high winds, and steps being taken to make sure there can be no repeat.
 
It’s not what the law envisaged but in the meantime,  until the authorities and commercial organisations involved in bringing us Edinburgh’s Christmas get their act together I’ll be keeping my feet on solid ground, at least until the December storms have passed! 

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