Serious amusement park injuries offer a case study for health and safety liability at public venues.
On 2 June 2015, Alton Towers in Staffordshire, UK, was closed for an investigation into a rollercoaster accident that seriously injured four peole.
Two carriages crashed on the Smiler ride at the Staffordshire theme park, leaving some passengers trapped for over four hours.
Sixteen people were injured on the Smiler ride when the carriage they were in collided with another that had come to a halt on the track.
Leah Washington, 17, had her left leg amputated above the knee as a result of her injuries sustained in the incident, and also sustained a fractured hand.
Another victim being treated by the trust, 20-year-old Vicky Balch, remains in a serious but stable condition.
The hospital said Balch’s family had asked that no more details be given however earlier reports had said both her legs were crushed in the crash.
Would the Occupational Health and Safety Act apply if the incident occurred in South Africa?
The OHS Act applies to all workplaces – which includes amusement and theme parks. An example of such a facility in South Africa would be Gold Reef City in Gauteng.
In terms of section 9 of the OHS Act, the employer has a duty to ensure that the health and safety of all persons, not only those in his employ, are not exposed to hazards to their health or safety.
This duty therefore includes visitors or clients.
This is normally why organisations would require visitors and contractors to undergo induction training prior to entering their premises to warn and inform them of the risks involved with entering the site.
Further, the common law principle that requires individuals to take reasonable care is also important here, and applicable to everyone, not only employers.
Health and safety liability in public places
Employers should be able to prove under the circumstances that they had taken reasonable care to ensure visitors’ health and safety, and in particular that visitors are informed of the risks associated with the different areas or facilities they may use.
This will further include measures such as the maintenance and inspection of all equipment (such as the rides), and measures to record and keep proof to this effect.
Employers also need to keep proof that the operators of the machinery are competent and trained to perform their duties safely and correctly.
In the absence of such measures, and lack of proof that the OHS Act is being complied with, the responsible person (normally the CEO of the organisation) could be held personally liable for the injuries and damages which may occur on site.
The organisation could also face penalties based on the principles of criminal, civil and vicarious liability depending on the facts of the case.
The OHS Act applies in respect of ALL workplaces – regardless of the nature thereof. Therefore – regardless of your operations – be it a factory or an amusement park, you need to comply with the Act.
It is likely that the owners /employers responsible in these circumstances would be held personally liable for the damages caused by the incident, should South African legislation be applied thereto.