Chessington World of Adventures was today (12 Jan) sentenced for safety failings that led to a four-year-old girl suffering life-changing head injuries when she fell from a raised walkway while queuing for a ride.
The youngster, from Kent, fell nearly four metres while waiting in line for the Tomb Blaster ride with her family at the theme park in Surrey on 7 June 2012. She suffered a fractured skull, bleeding to the brain and broken ribs and was in hospital for a month. She still needs extensive rehabilitation treatment and specialist support.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated and prosecuted Chessington World of Adventures Operations Ltd after finding the girl had fallen through a gap in a wooden fence.
A hearing at Guildford Crown Court (9 Jan) heard HSE had identified that a rotting paling in the fence had fallen out on the morning of the incident, having been dislodged, and that the whole fence showed evidence of serious weakening.
However, despite the fact that the theme park attracts tens of thousands of visitors a year to the site in Leatherhead Road, HSE said that Chessington did not have either an adequate system of checking and inspecting the fencing or a maintenance process to ensure faults were identified and rectified.
The investigation revealed the fence palings, which were examined in detail, were found to have evidence of white and brown rot. Although covered with a brown stain, they had not been painted with a preservative. Their lack of resistance to the weather had been exacerbated by being positioned just where they were hit by rainwater from the roof. There was also evidence that numerous palings had been re-fixed over the years, demonstrating a recurrent problem.
HSE told the court that an adequate maintenance regime and reporting system would have captured details of regular repairs and identified problems and trends. But without these, management were unable to see any pattern developing and address it properly.
Chessington World of Adventures Operations Ltd., of Market Close, Poole, Dorset, was fined £150,000 and ordered to pay £21,614 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
After the sentencing, investigating HSE inspector Karen Morris said:
“This was a disastrous and horrifying incident for the child and her parents. They had travelled from their home in Kent for a fun day out together at this well-known attraction only to find themselves hours later in an intensive care ward with their daughter.
“Quite simply, Chessington had insufficient measures in place to prevent or control the risk of falling from the raised walkway in the first place – and this was not just a couple of feet from the ground but nearly four metres.
“This incident shows the importance of implementing robust systems for checking and maintaining all aspects of rides, and this includes the walkways and fencing associated with queuing and where people gather.”
Notes to Editors:
Photos: A photo of the walkway area where the young girl fell – the actual fence is covered with tarpaulin. (2) The gap between the palings through which the girl fell.
- The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice; promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice; and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk
- Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.”