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Alton Towers - more than just a fine

27 September 2016

A “needless and avoidable accident in which those injured were fortunate not to have been killed” said the judge before imposing a fine of £5million upon Merlin Attractions following the Smiler accident at Alton Towers in 2015.

Many will reflect on the extent of the penalty being further confirmation that health and safety fines are increasing significantly since the introduction in March this year of the new sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences. However what is of equal note is the following sentencing remarks from the Judge Michael Chambers QC, “… the underlying fault was an absence of a structured and considered system, not that of individuals' efforts, doing their best within a flawed system.”

This reminds businesses of the requirement to put in place such structured systems and to monitor the adequacy of those systems and the competency of employees responsible for health and safety. This requires a coherent and line managed approach with a focus on supervision and review.

The new sentencing guidelines state that “fines must be sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact which will bring home to both management and shareholders the need to comply with health and safety legislation”. It is increasingly clear that since March the courts will robustly apply that guidance.

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