The Five Largest Health and Safety Penalties
The Alton Towers ‘Smiler’ rollercoaster accident was a tragic example of the consequences of neglecting health and safety.
A monitoring system for the ride was insufficient, meaning staff were unaware of an empty static carriage on the rails. Mistakenly giving the go ahead for the ride to commence, a collision occurred. Five were injured, with two people losing their legs in the incident.
Authorities look set to come down hard on Merlin Entertainment, the owners of Alton Towers. According to Health and Safety consultants Arinite, penalties have been raised this year. This means that Merlin Entertainment’s fine could break records.
There have been a fair few high-profile health and safety failures in modern British history. Here are the current most costly:
- Larkhall Gas Blast – £15m
Utility firm Transco were at fault for an explosion that killed a family of four in Larkhall, Lanarkshire.
They failed to maintain a domestic gas pipe, which had become corroded and leaky. A gas leak did occur, and the resulting blast was so large that it was audible within a four-mile radius. Observers said the street where the blast occurred looked like a ‘war zone’.
The case against Transco was concluded in 2005. They were fined £15m. It is still currently the biggest health and safety fine ever given out.
Transco’s reputation was severely damaged by the incident; Shortly afterwards, they rebranded as National Grid.
- Hatfield train crash – £7.5m
This disaster could have been avoided by following simple health and safety processes. A cracked rail caused a train to derail near Hatfield station in October 2000. The rail had been worn and damaged after years of stress, and had fragmented when the passenger train passed over it.
Balfour Beatty Rail Infrastructure Service were in charge of maintaining the track. An investigation found that staff at the company had noticed the faulty line almost two years prior to the accident. Amazingly, replacement tracks were ordered, but never actually installed.
The company were handed a £7.5m fine. The presiding judge pointed to negligence, and lack of priority given to making repairs.
- Paddington train crash – £4m
The Paddington train crash was one of the deadliest disasters in British transport history. 31 people died and 520 injured as a Thames Trains locomotive collided with a First Great Western train
near Paddington Station in October 1999.
A chain of errors and oversights caused the accident. Most important was a signal light with poor visibility. The signal had caused a number of near misses and seven complaints in the months before the incident. Railtrack, a privately owned firm responsible for running the track, did nothing to fix it. The authorities took a dim view of Railtrack, accusing them of gross negligence and incompetence.
Thames Trains also took some of the blame. It was their driver who misinterpreted the signal, and died in the process. The driver was relatively inexperienced, and it was argued that better training would have given him a better chance of avoiding the disaster. Thames Trains were fined £2m.