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August 23, 2013

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Fairground-ride scare inevitable owing to low gearbox oil levels

A lack of oil in the gearbox of a mechanism on a fairground ride was instrumental in causing the passenger car to collapse, trapping 22 people in the process.

All the passengers on the ride at Skegness Pleasure Beach — many of them children — had to be rescued by the fire service in the incident on 30 August 2011. Seven passengers were taken to hospital with various bruising, whiplash, and neck and shoulder strains.

Skegness Magistrates’ Court heard that the Surf Rider attraction was fully loaded and in operation when the passenger-car levelling mechanism failed, causing the car to fall to the ground.

The HSE investigated the incident the following day and found a gearbox for the mechanism had failed because of a lack of oil. A bearing in the gearbox became so hot that it seized and jammed the levelling mechanism. As a result, several other components failed and resulted in the passenger car operating at an angle to the main arm, instead of remaining horizontal throughout the ride.

The car then rotated on its axis, tilted, and collided with the ride platform, reaching an abrupt halt at an angle of around 80 degrees. The fairground operator, Pleasure Beach Amusements (Skegness) Ltd, took the ride out of operation, before it was sent to the Health and Safety Laboratory for tests.

HSE inspector David Kivlin said the company “significantly failed” in its duty to ensure the ride was maintained in good working order. But he also explained to SHP that the failure was an oversight by the company, which had wrongly assumed that the gearbox was full of oil, and failed to check whether or not this was the case.

Sentenced on 22 August, Pleasure Beach Amusements (Skegness) Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching section 3 of the HSWA 1974 and was fined £8000, plus the same amount in costs.

“This was a frightening incident for many people that day and it could have been easily prevented,” inspector Kivlin concluded. “There was just not enough oil in the gearboxes.

“There was specific instruction from the ride manufacturer and the gearbox manufacturer relating to the lubrication of the gearboxes. The HSE would expect the company to have checked that gearbox oil levels were correct before installation. As the oil levels were insufficient, there was, therefore, an inevitability about this incident.”

The company has a good safety record, with no previous enforcement notices served. It fully cooperated with the HSE investigation.

Student Alice Thorne, 16, of Hinckley, Leicestershire, was trapped on the Surf Rider for more than an hour when it collapsed. She suffered neck, chest and leg injuries and has been affected psychologically by the incident, which has left her with a fear of heights and fairground rides.

She said: “My neck pain lasted a couple of months and affected my dancing. I’ve also been having nightmares about the incident.

“I no longer go on fairground rides and when it comes to lifts and elevators, I get scared they might drop. I get very anxious in multi-storey car parks, and I’m now very paranoid about anything to do with heights.”

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