The Largest Health and Safety Fines in British History

by Dave Collins on June 30, 2016



The Largest Health and Safety Fines in British History

A disastrous failure of health and safety practice occurred in June 2015 at the Alton Towers theme park in the UK. A malfunction with the ‘Smiler’ rollercoaster injured five people, with two young women having legs amputated.

The monitoring system installed for the ride was inadequate, and staff were unable to notice that a stationary carriage was already on the rails. The oversight led to a collision.

Parent company Merlin Attractions Operations are likely to face a harsh penalty for the incident. As shown by health and safety consultants Arinite, sentencing guidelines have recently become a lot more stringent in the UK. This means that Merlin Attractions Operations could be given one of the largest health and safety fines in British history.

In light of this, here is a list of the current biggest fines ever imposed in the UK:

1. Larkhall Gas Blast – $27m

A faulty domestic gas pipe caused a massive explosion in Lanarkshire, Scotland, in December 1999. A family of four were killed. The explosion was heard miles away, and left an entire street looking like a ‘war zone’.

Utility company Transco (now known as National Grid) were judged to be responsible, failing to spot the leaking main gas pipe in the family home. A tribunal in 2005 fined the company $27m. It currently stands as the highest fine in a breach of health and safety case.

2. Hatfield train crash – $13.5m

Four passengers died and 102 injured when a train derailed by Hatfield station in October 2000. The disaster was caused by a cracked rail, which fragmented when the train passed over it.

To make matters worse, it was revealed that the fatigued and damaged track was spotted nearly two years earlier. Replacement tracks were ordered, but never actually installed.



Balfour Beatty Rail Infrastructure Service were responsible for maintaining the track, and found to be negligent and incompetent. The incident also raised concerns about the lack of regulation and government oversight in the railway industry. It led to the partial renationalisation of the rail track infrastructure, under Network Rail.

3. Paddington train crash – $7m

Two trains collided near Paddington Station in London in October 1999. 31 people were killed, and a further 520 injured.

There were multiple causes. The primary factor was found to be a poorly placed signal by Railtrack, a private company in charge of the rail infrastructure. There had been seven previous complaints about the unclear signal, but management never took action. Railtrack were judged to be incompetent and fined $7m. Along with the Hatfield train crash, this incident was one of the triggers for the formation of Network Rail.

One of the train operators, Thames Trains, were also guilty of providing inadequate training for their drivers. They were fined $4m.

4. Grayrigg derailment – $7m

The derailment in 2007 miraculously only killed one person, although 86 were injured. A Virgin train was thrown off the faulty tracks.

The accountability was put firmly at the doors of Network Rail. They had failed to carry out a routine track inspection just days before the accident. Network Rail were fined $7m in 2012. The reputation of the recently formed organisation was severely dented.

5. Buncefield explosion – $5m

The 2005 explosion at an oil storage depot caused thousands of gallons of gasoline to be released in a large vapour cloud. The disaster created a mini earthquake, injured 43, and sent a large cloud of black smoke across South East England. The overall economic damage was thought to be almost $2bn.

The owners of the depot were Total UK. They were at fault for failing to maintain the equipment that monitored oil levels. Safety checks were also found to be inadequate. Overall, Total UK were fined $5m.

All figures are displayed in $AUD



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