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November 14, 2008

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Firm fined after cable cars plummet 30 feet

Five people were seriously injured after two cable cars fell more than 30 feet to the ground, on a mountain in Scotland, Fort William Sheriff Court heard.

Magistrates heard that a family of three was travelling in a gondola car, operated by Nevis Range Development Co, from the top station at Aonach Mor on Ben Nevis, when the accident occurred on 13 July last year. During the car’s descent a clamping mechanism failed to grip the rope correctly, so the emergency stop was deployed.

In order to restart the car, the operator from the top station climbed on to a gantry to manually check the fault. On discovering that the car’s brake fork was broken, the operator installed a replacement. Once this was in place, the car should have been reversed into the station, so it could be taken out of service. But, the operator gave a signal to the bottom station to restart the cars and they recommenced in a forward motion. The replacement brake fork consequently broke, and the car began to career down the rope before colliding with the car in front.

As a result of the collision, the car with the broken brake fork became unattached from the rope and plummeted 30 feet to the ground below. All of the car’s occupants, which included a five-year-old child, suffered serious injuries.

At the time of impact, one of the occupants in the other car that was hit was hurled through a window, and fell to the ground below, suffering a punctured lung. The man’s son remained in the car, but received minor injuries, after the car fell to the ground when the rope sagged.

Nevis Range Development Co pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3 (1) of the HSWA 1974 and was fined £2000. The gondola operator, Kevin Byrne, an employee of the company, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 7 (1) of the HSWA 1974 for failing to take reasonable care of others. The court fined Byrne £1000, at the hearing on 10 November.

In mitigation Nevis Range Development Co stated that it had made numerous improvements to its health and safety procedures since the accident. It has re-evaluated its safety operating procedures and has given staff additional training. The company also said that it had an excellent health and safety record and expressed remorse for the incident.

Byrne told the court that he deeply regretted his part in the incident and had been fully aware of the correct safety procedure. He could not adequately explain why he did not follow this procedure and attributed it to inexperience.

HSE inspector Douglas Conner told SHP: “This was a serious accident that could easily have proven fatal. Five people, including a young child, were injured due to the company and one of its employees not following strict safety guidelines.

“Notwithstanding individual operator failings, procedure to deal with this type of fault was not clearly provided by the company. It failed to ensure that good communication was used between both operators at a critical time. These were latent failures, which provided as great, if not even greater danger to health and safety, than active failures.”

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