© Mark Daniels 2020 www.visitorsafety-touchofgrey.co.uk
This is the HSE statement provided to the Visitor Safety in the Countryside Group on 3rd August 2012:
Visitor safety at historical sites and similar attractions
The recent prosecution of Merlin Entertainments following a fatal accident at Warwick Castle has prompted concerns from a number of organisations managing historical sites and other similar visitor attractions. HSE has been asked for clarification on the steps these organisations have to take to ensure that the risks to their visitors are properly managed. Particular attention has been drawn to the issue of fencing or providing guard rails to prevent falls at historic castles, ruins and monuments.
The investigation carried out by Warwick Council found that Merlin Entertainment had not properly assessed or managed the risks to the public crossing a bridge over a dry moat. Consequently, effective steps were not taken to manage the risk of visitors falling over the low parapet. The investigation also concluded that the 14 ft drop was not obvious to visitors due to the surrounding environment and low light levels. The jury agreed with the prosecution, delivering a guilty verdict.
With regards to visitor safety, decisions on the suitability and sufficiency of actual risk control measures will inevitably be location specific. These must be based not just on an adequate identification of the hazards, but consideration of the likelihood that these hazards will cause harm. In addition the assessment upon which they are based should also consider how environmental conditions such as poor light and inclement weather affect the level of risk, and how this will be dealt with.
HSE recognises that it is not always possible or indeed desirable to eliminate all risks. In historic properties and other such attractions measures taken to control risks may have to be balanced with other factors such as conservation and peoples’ freedom to explore. It is also reasonable to expect that once operators have taken appropriate steps to manage risk that visitors will take some responsibility for their own safety, for example, taking account of warning signs, acting reasonably and supervising children in their care.
Whilst physical safeguards such as fencing or installation of guard rails will be appropriate in certain circumstances to prevent falls, there are other measures which owners may take to reduce risk to an acceptable level which does not spoil the aesthetic value of the location or visitor experience. For example planting prickly bushes to deter visitors approaching open edges, or conversely removing vegetation which obscures hidden drops. It is also important to provide advice, information and warning to visitors to properties so they can make informed decisions regarding their activities.
The Visitor Safety in the Countryside Group (VSCG), which represents many of the major organisations in this sector, state “that it is possible to protect and enhance our landscapes and historic properties, encourage public access and achieve levels of risk that are acceptable to society”. Their publication ‘Managing Visitor Safety in the Countryside – principles and practice’ provides guidance to owners and managers on assessing risks and implementing bespoke risk control measures which are sensitive to the environment and the duty to conserve the natural and built environment, and which do not unduly restrict access to important historic, cultural and recreational sites.
HSE supports this guidance as a sensible and proportionate approach to visitor risk management.
HM Principal Inspector of Health and Safety
Operational Strategy Division
3 August 2012
19 December 2012:
An update on the case. Merlin Attractions Ltd. submitted an appeal against the level of the fine in August 2012. The judges have now delivered their verdict and dismissed the appeal, so the fine stands. There is an article in the online Safety and Health Practitioner here - http://www.shponline.co.uk/incourt-content/full/castle-operator-fails-in-excessive-fine-challenge; and in the Leamington Observer here - http://www.leamingtonobserver.co.uk/2013/01/12/news-Warwick-Castle-fail
26th January 2013:
An observation. The two photos below were taken at Kenilworth Castle, an English Heritage property a few miles from Warwick Castle. These show the wide approach of the Tilt Yard just before the entrance to the Castle, with low parapets above a 12' (approx) drop to hard standing on one side and a steep grass bank on the other.