Activity centre admits to Corporate Manslaughter after tragic death

The following case study does not relate to a Pharos Response client and this is merely opinion based on the information publicly available to highlight some lessons that may help avoid future tragic incidents of this nature.  

 

Background

A water sports centre admitted Corporate Manslaughter last week following the tragic death of an 11-year old girl in 2010.  The victim was being towed with her friends on an inflatable behind a powerboat, when she fell off and was subsequently hit by the boat and its propeller.  The boat driver had not noticed the victim fall into the water and there was no ‘spotter/observer’ on the boat watching those on the inflatable.   Ambulance access was also blocked by parked cars, which delayed the response.  It was the opinion of the Court that this accident could have been avoided and amounted to a gross breach of duty of care.  The investigation identified inadequate safety management systems.  A report by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) said “The use of safety procedures was “flawed at every level” at the water park”.  The Court fined the activity centre £134,579 (all company assets available) under section 1(1) of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, but a charge against the Centre’s director was dropped.

 

Observations

As a keen ‘holiday water skier’, a spotter has personally always accompanied me on a ski boat, so it is surprising that a commercial operator would fail to operate such a system, especially when the risk is so foreseeable.  The British Water Ski and Wakeboard Association makes safety recommendations in this area and the 2010 version can be downloaded here. These are however voluntary.  The case shows how multidisciplinary investigations into health and safety matters can be, in this case involving several key agencies, including the Metropolitan Police, the HSE, the Local Authority and the Marine Accident Investigation Branch amongst others.  It also shows the lengths the investigatory bodies will go to, as this investigation involved a visit to New Zealand, where the boat driver was from.  The business and its management did not cooperate with the investigation, which can only ever invite deeper investigation.

 

Advice

Some thoughts that may help activity operators are as follows:

  • Seek out regulations or non-statutory recommendations specific to the activities (ignorance of their existence is no defence)
  • Seek advice from trade associations or other such bodies, as they can often help
  • Engage a suitably competent Safety Adviser who understands the risks associated with the activities, not generalised occupational health and safety
  • Invite external audit of safety management systems, even if there is a statutory regime in place
  • Write a safety management system that is specific to the locations and activities involved, and review this regularly
  • Write an incident management plan specific to your locations and activities
  • In the event of an incident, cooperate fully with the investigation

 

Pharos can help with all of the above.  Please contact us to find out how.

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More information

Police news file

British Water Ski and Wakeboard

 

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