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July 4, 2013

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Trust in the dock after waterslide blunder

A charitable trust has been fined after it allowed a young boy to slide down a water flume without ensuring that the collection pool at the end of the ride had enough water in it to slow him down.

On 11 August 2011, Josh Ritchie, from Forfar, was the first rider of the session on the Wipeout waterslide, at Aberdeen’s Beach Leisure Centre. Josh, who was 12 years old at the time, slid down the flume and collided with the end of the collection trough, fracturing his right ankle and shinbone. Problems with switching on the water supply meant there was insufficient water in the trough at the bottom of the slide.

His leg was in plaster for almost seven weeks and he had to wear a ‘moon boot’ for another fortnight. He has since made a good recovery.

Aberdeen Sheriff Court heard on 4 July that the Wipeout flume had the steepest descent and was the narrowest of three tube slides at the sports centre. Known as a speed slide, riders slide straight down a steep slope, which launches the rider into an exit flume and then into the ‘collection trough’ — a long canal of water that should slow the rider down gradually.

On the day of the incident, the pool plant operator was later than normal starting up the three flumes, as she was dealing with other matters. On the Wipeout flume, two valves had been left open from the day before and the pumps switched off at an electrical panel. Consequently, when the operator started the ride, she mistakenly closed the water-flow valve instead of opening it as she intended.

After heading off to deal with other issues, she received a call from the lifeguard stationed at the bottom of the waterslides to say no water had come through the Wipeout slide. The operator went to investigate and discovered the valve was closed, and so opened it.

As the water had now begun to flow at the top, the lifeguards above were unaware of the problem at the bottom of the ride and allowed the boy to slide down the flume. The lifeguard at the bottom called colleagues at the top to warn them not to send anyone down before the collection trough filled up, but as he picked up the phone he heard the noise of the boy hitting the end of the trough.

The lifeguard activated the alarm and went to the boy’s aid, while his parents were also alerted.

An HSE investigation found that Sport Aberdeen — a charitable trust that manages sports and leisure facilities and services on behalf of Aberdeen City Council — had failed to control risks fully and provide a safe system of work.

The trust’s pool-safety operating procedure did not include a procedure, in which staff were trained, for checking and verifying the water levels in the flume and trough of the ride before it was used by members of the public.

Following the incident, Sport Aberdeen added this procedure and produced an action plan to ensure flumes are running for 30 minutes before riders are allowed on. The trust also made improvements to its communication system to check water flow and depth, and conducted a thorough review of its training provision.

Sport Aberdeen, of Albyn Place, Aberdeen, was fined £8000 after pleading guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. No costs are awarded in courts in Scotland.
€ᄄFollowing the case, HSE inspector John Radcliffe said the incident was “entirely foreseeable and preventable”. He added: “While riding on any waterslide is not risk-free — as the body can be turned around, or over at high speed by the water flow as part of the thrill of the ride — this type of incident fell well outside the acceptable risk that customers accept by using such equipment.

“The injury sustained by the child, while serious enough, could have been much worse, as an impact like that runs the risk of serious spinal injuries.”

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