The owners of Alton Towers, Merlin Attractions Operation Ltd, have been fined a total of £5million following a roller coaster crash that injured 16 people in June last year.
Recap – Smiler crash
On 2nd June 2015, four people were seriously injured on the Smiler ride when a cart carrying 16 people collided at speed with an empty test cart.
Passengers were suspended at a 45 degree angle over 7 meters off the ground and rescue efforts went on for over four hours. Fire crews had to erect a 25 ft. platform in order to allow emergency services to gain access to the injured passengers.
During the incident, two passengers – Leah Washington, 17, and Vicky Balch, 20 – sustained such serious injuries that they each required leg amputation. Leah and Vicky’s partners, Daniel Thorpe, 27, and Joe Pugh, 18, were also seriously injured in the crash. Daniel suffered leg injuries and a collapsed lung, while Joe’s knees were shattered during in the accident.
A fifth passenger, Chanda Chauhan, 49, was also treated following the crash after sustaining internal injuries and a further eleven passengers suffered whiplash injuries.
Merlin accepted responsibility for the crash following an internal investigation, during which it emerged that the incident was caused due to ‘human error’. Staff – who could not see the stationary carriage on the track – overrode the ride’s safety measures, sending the carriage with passengers on a collision course with the empty carriage.
In the months following the incident, Alton Towers implemented technical improvements to the ride and changed their systems, including safety features such as improved access and a policy of closing the ride when winds exceed 34mph.
However, a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found no fault with the track, the cars, or the control system that keeps the cars apart from each other when the ride is running. Instead, inspectors found that the collision occurred due to ‘a lack of detailed, robust arrangements for making safety critical decisions’. They found that the engineers who overrode the Smiler’s control system did so without the knowledge and understanding to ensure it was safe to proceed.
Stafford Crown Court heard that whole system, from training through to fixing faults, was not robust enough to prevent a series of errors by staff when working with people on the Smiler ride.
After pleading guilty to breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act etc, 1974, Merlin Attractions Operation Ltd of 3 Market Close, Poole, Dorset were fined a total of £5million. The company was also ordered to pay costs in the amount of £69,955.40.
Head of operations for HSE in the Midlands, Neil Craig, said:
“People visiting theme parks should be able to enjoy themselves safely. On 2 June last year Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd failed to protect their customers, they badly let them down.
“This avoidable incident happened because Merlin failed to put in place systems to allow engineers to work safely on the ride while it was running. This made it all too easy for a whole series of unchecked mistakes, not just one push of a button, to result in tragic consequences.
“Since the incident Alton Towers have made improvements to the ride and their safety protocols, and the lessons learned have been shared industry wide.”
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