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...
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:
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.
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.
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.
Along with the Hatfield disaster, this convinced the government to partly nationalise the track infrastructure in the form of Network Rail.
One person died and 86 were injured when a Virgin Pendolino train veered off a faulty track near Grayrigg in Cumbria. In truth, it was incredibly fortunate that there were not more casualties.
This time, it was Network Rail that felt the heat. A routine safety inspection scheduled days before the derailment was not carried out. This would have surely prevented the accident.
It came as a blow to the recently formed organisation’s safety credentials. Network Rail was fined £4m.
Large swathes of South East England were covered in a cloud of black smoke in 2005 after the Buncefield oil depot explosion. A faulty oil level gauge led to an overflow and explosion. The blast injured 43 people, wasted thousands of gallons of petrol and caused an estimated £1 billion damage to the economy.
The depot in question was owned by Total UK. It turns out that they knew about the faulty gauge, but did not replace it. Safety inspections were also rare and insufficient. Their neglect earned them a £3m fine.
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Sathesh is a freelance writer based in London