Anna Patch’s three year-old son narrowly escaped serious injury when he fell through the missing floor and had to be snatched to safety by his mother with his feet within inches of the rotating wheel below. The pair had been enjoying a ride on the heritage steam railway, which was making return trips between Buckfastleigh and Totnes in Devon on 22nd June 2017 when the incident occurred.
The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) investigation discovered that the entire toilet cubicle floor had been missing since 2nd April. An ‘out of use’ sign had been pinned to the door and an attempt was made to secure the door with two screws, when the carriage was put back into service sometime around 14th April. However, there were no ongoing checks to ensure that the door remained secure, and staff working on the train were not informed of the missing floor.
The carriage required structural repair, and the ORR argued that it only remained in service once this issue was discovered, because the busy Easter period was approaching - this meant the company would normally run nine round trips a day.
ORR, who brought the prosecution under Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work 1974, found that at some point between 5th April and 22nd June, the screws broke along with the door post meaning that the door could easily be opened. The company was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay costs of £13,053.06.
It also found that the company continued using the carriage for three days after the incident, they had an inadequate Safety Management System in place which was approximately 10 years out of date and not fit for purpose.
ORR served an Improvement Notice in July 2017 requiring the company to put in place an established Safety Management System.
Ian Prosser, HM Chief Inspector of Railways, ORR said, “South Devon Railway Trust took an exceptionally casual approach to ensuring the safety of its passengers and created a genuine and unacceptable risk to the public. In this instance it is only by good fortune and the swift action of the boy’s mother that this incident was not a fatality. The fine issued today sends out a powerful message to the heritage sector that the safety of passengers is absolutely paramount, and that thorough risk assessment and monitoring must be carried out. The ORR is committed to protect the safety of people who travel on railways and will not hesitate to take enforcement action when it is necessary.”
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