Merlin, who operate the “Smiler” ride at Alton Towers have been fined £5,000,0000 for their failings in respect of Health and Safety violations.
Judge Michael Chambers QC in passing sentence cited a “catastrophic failure” and that it was a “needless and avoidable” accident. Two teenagers lost legs in the incident. It looks as if the engineer “felt pressure” to re-initialise the ride notwithstanding that the computer safety system seems to have operated to shut the system down. The engineer operated the manual override. The company also encouraged “insufficient periods of downtime”, linking performance bonuses with lower levels of downtime in their rollercoasters.
Summing up, the judge said criticised the “obvious shambles of what occurred” and held that a written procedure for rides that developed a fault could have averted the situation. The judge also felt that the risk assessment was inadequate.
As an aggravating circumstance, the Court held that the injured “endured great pain and distress” and had waited for help for far too long. The first call to emergency services was made only after 17 minutes.
In a fairly damning summation, the judge held "The defendant now accepts the prosecution case that the underlying fault was an absence of a structured and considered system not that of individuals' efforts, doing their best within a flawed system”.
So in short, if you or your company are operating machinery of any type, you must have an audit trail of annual health and safety risk assessments, maintenance records for machinery and training records for staff. If you do not then your company is at risk of unlimited fines in the Crown Court. This was a record fine and the Courts are moving increasingly to adopt a “hawkish” approach to sentencing.
Finally the civil actions in this and other cases are yet to be decided so the story is not over yet.
For further information call Jonathan Compton on 0148346 7433 or email Jonathan.firstname.lastname@example.org