Banana-boat tragedy highlights need for specialist risk knowledge
A watersports club contracted a consultancy to help it set up safety management systems, despite the company having no experience of assisting water-ski parks in managing the risks from their activities, a report into the death of a child in a banana-boat incident has found.
Eleven-year-old Mari-Simon Cronje died on 11 September last year from severe leg and perineal injuries after she fell off a banana boat into a lake and came into contact with the propeller of the ski boat that was towing the inflatable.
The driver of the ski boat was not aware that she had fallen into the water, and did not see her as he continued on a tight circular route.
An independent investigation report, issued last week by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB), concluded that the incident at Princes Club, Middlesex, was, in part, a direct result of the organisation’s flawed process for completing risk assessments, as well as the failure of the specific banana-boat risk assessment to identify the hazard of a fallen rider not being spotted by the driver.
The lack of external oversight of towed inflatable rides meant that Princes Club’s safety procedures went unchecked. Nevertheless, investigators also heavily criticised the club over the implementation of its safety management system, which they described as “flawed at every level”.
Although the club had contracted MHL Support Ltd in 2008 to establish health and safety management procedures, the consultancy “had no prior experience of assisting water-ski parks and had no record of taking specialist advice on the subject before, or during the contract”.
MHL’s initial survey of 31 May 2008 made 14 safety observations, but none of these related to the core activities on the site – namely, water skiing, cable skiing, or rides on the banana boat. An annual inspection by the consultancy in May 2010 made seven observations, but the club was not required to report back to MHL when these actions had been completed, and had no internal procedures to follow up the points raised.
Furthermore, despite many staff members having considerable experience of water sports, Princes Club chose to appoint its events coordinator as its health and safety liaison officer. She took on the role in 2009 only after she raised concerns about her lack of experience, at which point the club made arrangements for her to attend a four-day IOSH course.
Having completed the training, she carried out a full site inspection, identifying 49 safety observations and raising serious concerns about the “lax attitude” to health and safety on site.
The MAIB report noted the numerical difference between the 21 safety observations that MHL made over two visits, compared with the 49 identified by the inexperienced health and safety liaison officer in a single inspection.
It said: “This difference demonstrates that while MHL might have fulfilled the basic obligations of its contract with Princes Club, it had a limited ability to conduct a worthwhile health and safety inspection of a 120-acre site in the space of a few hours – particularly given its lack of experience in the sports involved. Similarly, Princes Club had an unrealistic expectation of the service that MHL was providing.”
The issue of accredited consultants providing advice in very specialist areas where their knowledge, or experience is limited was raised as a concern by some SHP readers during the development of the Occupational Safety & Health Consultants Register (OSHCR).
The MAIB report recommends that MHL (now Bibby Consulting and Support) review its service “to ensure that the limitations of any inspections carried out by its consultants are made clear to the client and, in particular, that the inspection may not necessarily reflect the standard of the entire operation”. It also recommends that either proper, technical advice is sought when assessing specialised activities, or that the limitations of the service are made clear to the client.
The company has already engaged specialist lawyers to assist in reviewing its health and safety systems and procedures to ensure that they provide a workable framework for clients to comply with statutory health and safety duties.
Riding on towed inflatables has never been included in the list of activities that are required to be assessed and licensed by the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority (AALA). The HSE is currently consulting on the closure of the AALA and replacing the licensing regime with a code of practice.
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