‘Haunt’-repreneurs Focus on Safety, Fun at Haunted Attractions Around the Country

10.04.2017


By Liz Carey

Anderson, SC (WorkersCompensation.com) – While everything seems scary on the surface of the Madworld Haunted Attraction, behind the scenes owners Joseph and Tim Thompson make sure the work environment of the popular Halloween attraction is anything but frightening.

Like hauntrepreneurs, haunted house builders and house attraction owners across the country, the Thompson brothers put together the haunted attraction as a way to entertain people, but for them it is also a business — one that brings in six-figure profits, and employs more than 100 people as monsters, ticket takers, grounds keepers and makeup artists. For them, their employees are like the employees of any other business — subject to taxes, unemployoment and workers’ compensation coverage.

And while they’ve never had a workers’ compensation claim, it’s still important for them to have it, Tim Thompson said.

“We’ve never had an issue,” he said in an interview with WorkersCompensation.com. “But by law we have to have workers’ compensation if we have employees. We want to ensure that actors are trained well and trained right on how to scare our customers. You can’t ensure that if you have volunteers. So we pay our actors. They’re our employees.”

Haunted houses and Halloween have become a big business in recent years. Some estimates put the haunted house attraction industry at between $300 million and $500 million a year. There are more than 3,000 haunted houses across the country, about half of them industry leaders said, are businesses. Most attractions charge between $15 and $25 per person, and have an average attendance of about 10,000 per season which runs from late September to the beginning of November. Some larger attractions get more than 30,000 visitors a year.

But the industry is a safe one, said Amber Arnett-Bequeaith with America Haunts, a group representing some of the largest haunted attractions in America. Haunted attractions are extremely safe, she said due to the building and fire codes the attractions have to meet.

And it’s safe for the employees as well. 

Leonard Pickel, a haunted house designer and consultant, said he rarely hears of actors in haunted houses getting hurt.

“It really hasn’t come up,” he said. “We are super safe on the job site. We try to be as safe as we can be. We’re using saws and some pretty serious equipment sometimes, we have to be extra safe.”

While actors face the possibility of injury from being accidentally hit by scared patrons, or being injured by equipment, instances of injury is rare, Pickel said.

“The design of most haunted houses is done to keep actors out of arms reach from patrons,” he said. I’ve never heard of an actor getting injured by a patron. There have been actors who have been killed, but those were mostly due to being run over on hay rides. Injuries, if there are any, are usually patron on patron.”

Pickel’s Florida-based Hauntrepreneurs.com works with business people who want to start their own haunted house attractions. He recommends to all of his clients to have employees instead of using volunteers.

“If you have employees and they get hurt, they have workers’ compensation,” he said. “If you have volunteers and they get hurt, then you have a liability issue.”

Other industry professionals say injuries are common though.

Allen Hopps, a seasoned haunted house professional who trains actors to work in haunted houses, said the actors do face a number of injuries in the haunted houses. Common among them are busted noses, bites, scratches and punches.

“It’s common, absolutely,” Allen Hopps told the Huffington Post. “The problem isn’t the haunted houses or the actors, but the customers. They forget that people are actors and have a flight-or-fight reaction towards the person scaring them, not realizing one might be a 16-year-old girl.”

Other injuries, he said, are more work related — things like “haunted house throat” from excessive screaming and “cleaver elbow” from repetitively raising your arms in one night.

“You can also get muscle burns using a chainsaw,” Hopps said. “It happens in the line of duty, but haunted house acting is a sport. If you twist an ankle, you can still work in the graveyard as a zombie.”

Edward Terebus, owner of Erebus, in Pontiac, MI, said he thinks injuries on the job are just the cost of doing business.

Terebus told the Huffington Post that one of his customers was so frightened by the attraction that she passed out. He pulled her from the attraction so that she could be treated by paramedics. After coming to, she tried to get into her car. Terebus said he tried to stop her to ensure that she was treated first. In doing so, he reached into her car to pull her keys out of the ignition.

“This woman grabs my arm like a chicken leg and takes a big bite out of my arm,” he laughed. “I’m screaming, she’s screaming and for an ironic twist, the fire department ended up holding me longer than her, tending to my bite wound.”

But the industry is seeing more and more people enter the industry on a full-time basis. 

“Probably the biggest thing I would say you’re seeing within the haunted house industry is that many people have made it a full-time job,” said Larry Kirchner, president of Halloween Productions and owner of The Darkness, in St. Louis, MO, one of the largest haunted house attractions in the country. In an interview with Forbes magazine, Kirchner said the industry was changing. “When the industry was just getting started, 99% of haunted house owners, operators and even the manufacturers had another job. It was truly a part-time industry. Since then, I would say that well north of 85% of the people operating a professional level haunted house — excluding the charities — consider this their only job.” 

And as it becomes a full-time, year-round job, he said, the season for the haunted attraction may expand, meaning the need for qualified help also expands.

“Many haunt owners are trying to find ways to retain people year-round. The only way they can do that is find things to do with the kinds of talent at their disposal,” Kirchner said.

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