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Alton Towers Crash Highlights Health and Safety Importance

Alton Towers Crash Highlights Health and Safety Importance

Date: 3rd June 2015 | By: Claire Malley | Categories: Health and Safety

The tragedy at Alton Towers on Tuesday 2nd June is a stark reminder to businesses of the importance of managing the health, safety and welfare of your staff, your customers and the general public.

On Tuesday 2nd June at around 2pm, two carriages on the ‘Smiler’ rollercoaster collided. An empty carriage had become stuck on a low section of the track and the next carriage, which had passengers on board, crashed into the back of it. Nick Varney, chief executive of the park’s owners Merlin Entertainments, said in a statement that “there are braking locks that should stop two cars being on the same section of track and somehow that didn’t work the way it was meant to.”

The Smiler opened to the public in 2013.

The Smiler opened to the public in 2013.

Four of those on board suffered “serious but not life-threatening” injuries to the lower limbs and since then it has been confirmed that these injuries will be “life-changing”. Some of the passengers were stuck on the ride for up to four and a half hours at a 45 degree angle as emergency services worked to free each passenger and carefully lower them from the 25ft track. The park closed whilst the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the incident but has since opened, however the Smiler remains closed. The HSE was quoted as saying it would take action to protect the public if it uncovered “evidence that could affect the safety of other rides at the park or elsewhere”.

Although most companies have nowhere near the amount of visitors that a national amusement park like Alton Towers has, the duty of care on the business to each of its visitors remains the same. Companies that breach Health and Safety regulations can often incur heavy costs, and not just in the financial sense either. The impact on a business after an incident like this is usually broken down into three areas:

  • Legal
  • Merlin Entertainments, the parent company of Alton Towers, is likely to face a number of legal cases in the not-too-distant future. Both from the passengers on the carriage that crashed and the HSE should they find a breach in Health and Safety regulations was the cause of the crash.

  • Financial
  • These legal proceedings will likely lead to compensation payouts to the passengers on the carriage and fines from the HSE, again, only if a breach in Health and Safety regulations is ruled the cause of the crash. In addition, as Merlin Entertainments is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a part of the FTSE 100, their share price suffered. Within minutes of reports of the incident hitting the news, stock brokers, day traders and the like started dumping their shares in Merlin Entertainments, leading to a drop in share price from 459.60 at 2:00pm to as low as 439.00 this morning, although it has bounced back slightly to around 450.00 at the time of writing. It is unclear what long-term effect this will have on the company’s finances but what is certain is the short term consequences. The park is closed today (Wednesday) and may remain closed for a while whilst the HSE investigates, meaning the park is making zero money from ticket sales and is generously offering refunds on their website for pre-purchased tickets. The opportunity cost also needs to be considered, as many social media users have been commenting on how they will “never go on a rollercoaster again”. Visitor numbers to the park are likely to drop, at least in the short term anyway, as this incident stays fresh in people’s minds.

  • Moral

An often overlooked impact Health and Safety incidents have on companies is the moral impact. In this case, 4 people have suffered life-changing injuries as a direct result of this incident with 11 others requiring medical treatment. This will impact the staff working on the ride at the time, witnesses of the incident, the family and friends of those affected, and of course, the passengers themselves. Mr Varney has said “I would like to express my sincerest regret and apology to everyone who suffered injury and distress and to their families.” It is easy to get tied up in the financial costs and the legal cases, but the impact on the people involved in the incident can be severe and support should always be provided to those who need it.

Another impact on businesses is the reputational damage. When an incident makes national headlines, there will always be an impact on a company’s reputation, especially when it’s as devastating as this one. As has been mentioned above, visitor numbers will likely drop, the investigation will continue to make headlines putting more and more people off from going, and the theme park’s safety record will likely be heavily scrutinised.

For the average business, incidents of this magnitude are unlikely. But any health and safety breach has the potential to ruin a business. Your business may not float on the stock market and you may not have an annual turnover in the millions of pounds, but something as simple as an employee falling from a ladder can prove costly. A fine from the HSE, compensation to the worker, recruiting a replacement whilst the injured worker is off; it all adds up. Going further, other employees may resign out of fear for their safety; word could spread making recruitment difficult. Clients and customers could cut ties as the level of service they receive from you has dropped, negative reviews from disgruntled customers puts off potential business partners and customers from using your company resulting in an opportunity cost. The implications from a simple accident are far-reaching and often unnoticeable at the time.

The thoughts and best wishes of all at Wirehouse Employer Services are with those involved in this terrible incident and we wish those who suffered injuries as a result of the crash a speedy recovery.

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