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12 Oct 2005 : Column 135WH—continued

Fun Parks (Megan Wilcox)

4.40 pm

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): I dedicate this debate on theme park safety to the memory of Megan Wilcox, aged seven, from the Broxtowe estate in my constituency. She died after an accidental fall at the Wonderland pleasure park in Farnsfield and the coroner returned a verdict of accidental death.

I have a petition with 6,000 signatures of local people, urging the Government to ensure that adequate medical assistance is provided at theme parks, which I take to include all commercially operated attractions open to the general public where children have access to play equipment. That will include amusement parks and locations similar to the one where Megan's tragedy occurred.

Megan's family believe that there were not enough first aiders on hand at Wonderland when she died, near a slide, on 5 September 2003. It is still unclear whether she tripped on a mat at the foot of the slide or fell after colliding with another child. My constituents, Megan's mother Kerry and stepfather Wayne, believe, as I do, that first aiders should be compulsory at attractions such as fun parks, leisure parks and the like. It came as a surprise to me, and may do to you, Mr. Cook, and to anyone listening to the debate, that that was not already the case.

Megan's parents cannot understand why what is compulsory at football grounds cannot be so at places such as Wonderland, which cater for children. As regulations stand, employers are obliged to provide first aid at work for their employees, but not for those visiting the site. Yet as I understand it, under primary legislation employers are obliged to ensure that those who visit their site or are affected by their work are not at risk. Similarly,

That is a quotation from paragraph 150 of the health and safety guidance HSG 175. A contradiction is evident in that to lay people, if not to those who understand the nuances of legislation and regulation in this context. There is a contradiction between regulation, primary legislation and common law. To keep our children safe, that confusion must be resolved and clarified. I am glad to give the Minister a chance to do so today.

I know that the Minister has taken an interest in the matter. She answered questions in the House recently, on 18 July, and I have spoken to her on the matter. I have also spoken to the Minister in the Department who is responsible for health and safety, Lord Hunt. I know that the Department takes the issue seriously, and as it has been raised over quite some time I am sure that today we shall hear the results of Government thought and activity on the matter.

I do not pretend to understand the ins and outs of the legislation, and there may be several ways of proceeding. I am sure that the Minister will have considered those. One approach is to include the public with employees. The guidance from the Health and Safety Executive on safe practice at fairgrounds and amusement parks—HSG 175, to which I referred—is currently being
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reviewed and revised in conjunction with the industry associations, through a working party of the fairgrounds joint advisory committee.

I hope that the House will bear with me with this quite technical information which is none the less important for youngsters in the relevant parks. The revised document is currently with the HSE, in draft form, and is expected to be published in 2006. Revisions to that document address the continuing efforts of the industry, together with the HSE, to make amusement parks and fairgrounds as safe as possible. I urge the Minister to make it a priority to publish a revised HSG 175 as soon as humanly possible.

I am not clear about the status of the guidance, and I would be grateful for more information. First, does it apply to all fairgrounds and attractions, including those outside the associations represented on the joint advisory committee? In other words, it can be monitored by the professional bodies, but whom outside those associations—those who do not join the industry's organisations—will monitor it? Secondly, is the guidance to be used to determine whether attractions have met their duty of care toward the public?

I appreciate that only last year the HSE carried out a review of a separate item—the health and safety first aid regulations. That review was wide-ranging; among other things, it considered extending the provision of first aid to members of the public. Following the review, the guidance relating to the regulations remain unamended. It states:

"May wish" is not strong enough, given the possibility of tragedies such as that which befell Megan.

The Minister and the Department may wish to reconsider the result of that review. Will the Minister make clear whether the provision of first aid for the public is part of the common law duty of care for a fairground, bearing in mind that the nature of fairground business is to admit the public, especially children, who are a vulnerable group? No change was made to the guidance after last year's review, but I hope that Megan's sad death will demand that it is reconsidered and that proper provision for the public at all entertainment parks is introduced.

Work could be done also to apply the same standards to all attractions. Local authority environmental health officers enforce health and safety law under the general direction of the Health and Safety Commission, not by the granting or revoking of licences. The system for deciding on a suitable first aid provision is by use of risk assessments alone. There is currently no requirement for theme parks to be licensed by the HSE or local authorities. Such legislation, were it to be introduced, could assist in specifying conditions with respect to public safety, including the provision of trained first aiders. I do not know whether the Minister wishes to go down that road—it may not be practicable—but I hope that it will be on the agenda should the Minister feel that she is not getting full co-operation from all the parties involved.
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The current risk assessment system is meant to identify whether safety of the public and of employees is an issue, and whether it requires suitable action to reduce the level of risk. The system is meant to ensure that the level of first aid cover reflects the size and type of operation, and consequently the number of visitors. Mr. Colin Dawson, the chief executive of the British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions told me that

He says that in all cases:

The trade organisation, therefore, takes a very responsible view, which is also the view of most people who operate in the field. I am pleased to say that Mr. Dawson continues:

I hope that the Minister, or Lord Hunt, will grab that offer from the industry and build upon it, so that our children can play in such places with greater security and greater safety. I understand that BALPPA is due to meet Lord Hunt to discuss the matter further.

Voluntary level working, while helpful, will always mean that non-BALPPA attractions can slip through the net. The reference that I made earlier encourages such attractions to join a recognised trade association, which can then—hopefully—ensure that they comply with required standards by monitoring their effective enforcement.

I hope that the Minister will bear it in mind that the size of an attraction is not necessarily an indicator of its risk. A large site that is well managed and maintained may well be safer than a smaller one that is not.

I believe that a further opportunity will arise to make progress on this issue when the HSE meets the industry on 30 November at its annual meeting to discuss health and safety in the fairground industry. Membership of that body includes representatives from all quarters of the industry such as the British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions, the Showman's Guild of Great Britain, the Society of Independent Roundabout Proprietors, the Association of Independent Showmen, the British Amusement Catering Trade Association and the Amusement Catering Equipment Society.

I trust that the Minister will be able to tell us today that she will ensure that the issues arising from Megan's death and from this Adjournment debate will be raised at that meeting, including a review of the advice on first-aid provision for members of the public in HSG 175—the fairgrounds and amusement parks guidance. I also take this opportunity to ask the Minister if she will broaden the membership of the fairgrounds and amusement parks joint advisory committee and take action to enforce the recommendation that attractions that are not members of industry associations should join one.
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I shall also make a brief point about fixed sites being treated differently from the temporary sites. I understand that for fixed sites, the current arrangements do not cover the public, whereas they do cover the temporary sites. That may sound rather strange to a layman such as me, but apparently that is the current situation. These issues and their remedies may sound technical, but they are literally the difference between life and death in relation to possible accidents at fun parks and other attractions.

May I make it clear that neither I, nor Megan's parents, to whom I have spoken in the past few days, are pursuing anyone. We are not trying to name people or attribute blame. On the contrary, our only concern is to improve safety and medical standards so that children in future—I have an eight-year-old daughter—can enjoy leisure attractions with the peace of mind that if an accident were to happen, adequate first aid would be available. That would be a lasting and fitting tribute, which the family would appreciate, to mark the bright, but all too brief, light of Megan's life.

4.54 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mrs. Anne McGuire) : Congratulations seems an inappropriate word to use in the circumstances that have provoked the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) has raised the issue and secured the debate in his usual courteous and committed way. By doing so he has raised an important issue and one on which I hope we can move forward together. I should also like to thank him for the opportunity presented today to consider the ways in which safety at fun parks can be improved. Obviously the case of Megan Wilcox is core to that.

As my hon. Friend mentioned, Megan Wilcox was a young child who died on 5 September last year. Before I go into some of what my hon. Friend has identified as fairly technical issues in terms of health and safety, I should like to extend my sympathy to her family and friends for their tragic loss. I am sure that other Members will join me in this. Nothing that we say here today can take away the pain that Megan's family and friends will feel, but we can look closely at the events and learn from them to build something better for the future.

First, by way of background, it may be helpful to review the accident rate in fairgrounds and amusement parks. The Health and Safety Executive's published statistics from 1996 to 2003 show a welcome downward trend in major accidents to members of the public at fairgrounds and amusement parks. In 1996–97, 432 people were injured. That fell to 100 in 2003–04, and one estimate suggests that the risk of death from a fairground ride is now one in 83 million. While that trend has to be looked on as encouraging, I know that we all expect that everyone involved in the industry will work together to ensure that it continues.

Let me now say something about the legal position. Fun park owners and operators, like any other responsible employer, have to provide healthy and safe working conditions for their employees under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. They also have a responsibility to protect members of the public from their work activities. The provision of welfare facilities for members of the public, such as first aid, is not addressed by the Act, and the Act specifically limits welfare regulations to employees.
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The Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations require employers, including fun park operators, to provide first aid for their employees, but those provisions do not extend to members of the public. However, guidance on good practice that accompanies the regulations encourages employers to make such provision where there are significant dealings with the public. I will come back to this in a moment.

Although it will be of little comfort to Megan's family, the question my hon. Friend raises about extending provision of first aid to the public was thoroughly considered by the HSE over the past few years. In September 2003, the HSE issued a discussion document on the first aid regulations. That was the first full review and evaluation since they were introduced in 1981, although there had been changes to the accompanying approved code of practice and guidance. The HSE was encouraged by the response to the discussion document; more than 500 responses were received.

The review explored views on the current legislation and what changes could or should be introduced. There was a specific question on whether first aid for the public should continue to be provided by employers within a non-statutory framework or made compulsory through new legislation. I will return to that. The review was informed by prior research that also included the consideration of first aid for members of the public. It found that employers dealing with the public in large numbers, such as entertainment venues, generally make first aid provision for them, not least because of businesses' perception of the positive public viewpoint that this creates in enhancing their reputation. Conversely, where businesses do not make such provision, that was perceived as having a negative impact, especially if the treatment was neither timely nor effective.

The discussion document sought views on including a statutory obligation on employers to extend the provision of first aid to members of the public. The arguments were finely balanced, but the proposal was rejected by the majority of those who responded to it. The HSE concluded that there was already a good non-statutory response, especially in sectors that deal with large volumes of the public. Arguments that were weighed in the balance included the practicality raised by employers of having to cater for the public at large. First aiders were concerned about possible litigation, and said that they would reconsider volunteering if they were obliged by the law to offer first aid to the public. That is an indication of the litigious society in which we live. On 7 September 2004, the Health and Safety Commission agreed with the HSE's recommendations. Faced with that body of evidence, I do not believe that new legislation on first-aid provision is the way forward. I appreciate that that may be a disappointment to my hon. Friend.

It is important to note that the HSC has said that it does not necessarily see new regulation as the solution to all problems, particularly where there are other means of achieving the same end. Guidance, especially that developed in partnership with stakeholders, to which my hon. Friend alluded, may on occasion be a more appropriate solution. As he said, on 18 July I said that I
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would ask the HSC to explore whether local authorities could be encouraged to use their licensing powers to make provision of first-aid facilities a condition of licensing of theme parks and funfairs. The HSE has concluded that the scope for first aid provision to be attached as a condition to licences under the Licensing Act 2003 is extremely limited. That is because the Act does not apply to categories of entertainment such as fairgrounds; rather, it applies to certain activities, such as dancing, the sale of alcohol, performances of plays or films, and musical entertainment. In practice, it would make little real difference to the provision of first aid in the vast majority of fun parks in England and Wales.

The HSE therefore draws attention to the need to consider the provision of first aid to the public where organisations provide a service for others, such as places of entertainment, educational establishments and fairgrounds. That is set out in the guidance to the first aid regulations. The HSE has also issued authoritative guidance on fairgrounds and amusement parks, in collaboration with the fairgrounds industry, and advises on the provision of first aid to members of the public in fairgrounds and theme parks. Trained first aiders for the public can be seen as an important part, for example, of emergency planning arrangements.

In line with the HSC's strategy for workplace health and safety, the Government would like the industry to take ownership of and deliver solutions to such issues. A sensible approach to safety is to manage risk as far as possible, not to try to eliminate it entirely. As my hon. Friend also mentioned, the industry is best placed to ensure that risks are sensibly managed and that the public are protected from harm. That is the key to stopping accidents happening. The HSE and the Government are committed to doing all that we can to be good partners in achieving those aims. I have already mentioned that the HSE encourages employers, particularly those that have large numbers of the public using their facilities, such as fairgrounds and fun parks, to take account of the public and other visitors when conducting risk assessments and considering first aid provision. However, more can be done to encourage the fairground industry to ensure that current arrangements work as well as possible. The HSE's guidance is drafted so that it applies to all fairgrounds, not just those that are members of the trade association.

The way forward lies in promoting the non-statutory adoption of good practice tailored to particular circumstances. The majority of fairgrounds and theme parks already have a high standard of first aid provision, as my hon. Friend said. Indeed, in some cases, those standards are exemplary. But I would also like to challenge the industry to see what more it can reasonably do to raise awareness and spread good practice more widely.

The HSE has already raised this matter with some of the main stakeholders whose members make up the majority of theme and fun parks in Great Britain. The response, I am delighted to say, has been encouragingly positive. There have been more recent developments, too: my noble Friend Lord Hunt, the Minister responsible for health and safety in the Department, has recently had representations from the British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions to
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discuss health and safety guidance for fairgrounds. I know that Lord Hunt will be raising the issue of first aid for members of the public when the meeting goes ahead.

I have also asked the HSE to put the matters raised in this debate to the next meeting of the Fairgrounds and Amusement Parks Joint Advisory Committee on 30 November. The committee is chaired by the HSE and is attended by all the major trade associations involved in the industry, including BALPPA. It is the main vehicle for agreeing standards of health and safety in the sector. There is also specific guidance that is currently being revised with the industry's participation.

I would like the HSE to do two things. First, it should consider whether the information about first aid provision to the public that is already in the industry-specific guidance could be revisited in light of Megan's case. Secondly, it should provide further information to highlight the first aid issues raised by this case on the HSE website, which is the HSE's principal means of communicating with all stakeholders. The comments of Colin Dawson of BALPPA were interesting in that context.

Sadly, given the severity of Megan's injuries, it may well be that there would have been very little that any first aider could have done to save her, however quickly he or she arrived. However, I also recognise that Megan's parents, understandably, may never be entirely
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confident that that was the case. We have to understand their views. However, we should focus for a moment on the cause of the injuries and their prevention. Megan slipped and tripped over. That is the commonest cause of all injuries in the United Kingdom, both at work and outside work. Clearly, we have to look at how we highlight the issue of tripping. In this context, I welcome the initiative that the HSE is running this month called "Watch your Step" to highlight the issue to employers and the general public.

Finally, we should bear in mind that accident rates at fun parks remain low. That is due in no small part to the professional nature of the industry and the importance that it attaches to rider and visitor safety. We should never cease to learn from the lessons of tragedies such as these. Although we can never entirely remove risk from society, we can strive to ensure that people, especially children, live in a society that values and fully provides for their safety.

I once again thank my hon. Friend for raising these issues with me and with Lord Hunt. I hope that, together, we can use the lessons of Megan's sad death to build a safer environment in which children—and, in fact, all people—can safely enjoy entertainment.

Question put and agreed to.

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