Real-life H&S incidents

Alton Towers’ owners fined £5million over Smiler crash

Written by Phoenix Health & Safety
13th October 2016
alton towers

The owners of Alton Towers have been fined £5million with costs of £69,955.40 following a rollercoaster collision which left 16 people injured, a number of them seriously.

Two young women on the Smiler ride suffered leg amputations and others suffered severe injuries when their carriage collided with a stationary carriage on the same track on 2 June 2015.

Stafford Crown Court heard that on the day of the incident engineers overrode the Smiler’s control system without the knowledge and understanding to ensure it was safe to do so. 

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. 

Investigators found the root cause to be a lack of detailed, robust arrangements for making safety critical decisions. The whole system, from training through to fixing faults, was not strong enough to stop a series of errors by staff when working with people on the ride. 

Following the incident Alton Towers made technical improvements to the ride and changed their systems. Merlin Attractions Operation Ltd of 3 Market Close, Poole, Dorset pleaded guilty to breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act etc, 1974 and were fined £5million with costs of £69,955.40. Neil Craig, head of operations for HSE in the Midlands 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".

Phoenix comment “This tragic accident highlights the importance of integrating the possibility of human error within critical activities. Specialists in human reliability found that there are four basic types of human failure. Slip, a simple frequently performed physical action goes wrong. Lapse, a lapse of attention or memory. Mistake, not understanding properly how something works or an error of diagnosis or planning. Violation, a deliberate breach of rules and procedures   By understanding the different types of human failure, assessment can incorporate critical decisions to reduce the risk.  Even good people can cause human error. You cannot change the human condition; you can only change the conditions in which people work”.