An operations manager at a funfair company has been jailed for six months and disqualified as a director for five years after a three-year-old girl died on a Norfolk beach. The funfair company he was working for has been fined £20,000.
The inflatable trampoline Ava-May Littleboy had been playing on exploded, ejecting her high into the air.
Ava-May, from Somersham in Suffolk, had been taken by family and friends to the Bounce About attraction that had been set up on the beach at Gorleston-on-Sea in Norfolk, on July 1, 2018.
She and a nine-year-old girl were on the trampoline when the blast happened without warning. While the older child suffered minor injuries, Ava-May was thrown upwards – witnesses described her as being shot up between 20 and 40 feet, or the height of a house. She landed on the beach. In the process, she sustained fatal head injuries.
In a tribute, Ava-May’s mother said a family tradition is now to spend Ava-May’s birthday at her bench in the local park.
Johnsons Funfair Limited, trading as Bounce About, operated a number of bouncy castles, slides and other inflatables on the beach at Gorleston, and at another site on Great Yarmouth beach.
Great Yarmouth Borough Council worked with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on a joint prosecution. Charges were brought against Johnsons Funfair Limited and its operations manager, Curt Johnson, whose wife was sole owner and director of the company.
The investigation found that Curt Johnson, on behalf of the company, had imported the inflatable trampoline into the UK from China in 2017 and had put it into use without carrying out any of the required testing and certification to ensure it was safe to be used by the public. An importer of such an item equipment must ensure that there has been a proper review of the design, verification that the item has been manufactured in accordance with the design, and a detailed test by a suitable expert on the item’s arrival in the UK. None of that had been done here.
In operational terms, there had been no proper risk assessment or work procedure laid down, and the company used undertrained staff paid cash in hand, some of them too young to work without child work permits which were not sought and would not have been granted for work at such a fairground.
Crucially, the defendants allowed the company’s inflatables (which included a number of other inflatables besides the trampoline which exploded) to be operated despite not having, and not seeking, any operating instructions from the manufacturer, and without having their inflatables properly annually checked and certified by an independent expert under the ADIPS scheme (a scheme for checks comparable to MoT checks for vehicles).
HSE’s long-established guidance can be found at: Health and safety guidance for fairgrounds (hse.gov.uk). Guidance more specific to sealed inflatables can be found at: Sealed inflatables: safe supply, inspection and operation – Overview – HSE.
Chloe Littleboy, Ava-May’s mother, said: “Birthdays are always at her bench in the park. Balloons, flowers, cakes and sweets decorate it and the whole family go there together to celebrate. That’s now the family ‘thing’, spending her birthday, Christmas and the anniversary of her death all together.”
Nathan Rowe, Ava-May’s father, added: “It’s amazing as a parent that so many people care about your child. It’s surprising how one little girl had impacted on so many lives. I read her eulogy and it was my one and only chance to pay tribute to her and her short life. I don’t know of another father who’s had to do this.”
Johnsons Funfair Limited, of Swanston’s Road, Great Yarmouth, as importer and site operator, pleaded guilty to breaching Sections 6(1A)(a) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The company was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £288,475.62 in costs.
Curt Johnson, of Swanston’s Road, Great Yarmouth, pleaded guilty to offences of having consented to or connived in each of the company’s two offences, or those being attributable to his neglect. Johnson was sentenced to six months in custody for each offence, to be served concurrently, and disqualified as a director for five years.
The sentences were passed at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court.
HSE principal inspector Ivan Brooke said: “Our thoughts today are with the family of Ava-May. This was supposed to be a fun day out, but it ended in tragedy.”
“The operator flouted the rules on certification and testing to devastating consequences.”
“Had the company carried out the required checks, and followed the freely available, well-established guidance, this tragedy would not have happened.”
“Since the tragedy, and following the inquest, we published supplementary guidance more specific to sealed inflatables. They should be checked over by the responsible body before they are used, and maintained effectively throughout.”
“Incidents with inflatables are extremely rare, but we will not hesitate to take strong action if funfairs do not take the required precautions.”
James Wilson, head of environment and sustainability at Great Yarmouth Borough Council, said: ‘’It has been five years since Ava May died so tragically during what should have been a safe family day out at the beach.”
“The safety of the public is of paramount importance and it was essential Great Yarmouth Borough Council and our partners at the Health and Safety Executive carried out a thorough investigation to try to ensure such a tragedy is not repeated.”
“The prosecution and sentencing of those responsible finally brings some closure to what has been an unbearably difficult time for Ava May’s family and the council is pleased justice has been served.”
“We hope this case highlights how operators must ensure safety of their customers at all times.’’
The prosecution was supported by HSE enforcement lawyer Kate Harney and by Norfolk County Council solicitor David Lowens.
A proper design review, testing by a competent person and a suitable and sufficient risk assessment had not been carried out by Johnsons Funfair Limited; This is a serious breach of health & safety legislation, as is the lack of training and work permits for children. The offending company are extremely fortunate that nobody else was injured by these omossions which included the lack of safe systems of work and the employment of children that were not old enough to operate the inflatables without proper information, instruction, training and supervision.
Undertaking a risk assessment is a crucial step in identifying potential hazards and implementing measures to prevent accidents and incidents. The risk assessment involves evaluating the risks which considers the likelihood and severity of harm occurring and the implementation of controls to either eliminate the hazards or mitigate the risks. In this case, the absence of a risk assessment indicates a breach of legislation by failing to adequately address safety concerns and protect their workers and members of the public. In my opinion, there should harsher penalties, fines and sentencing for safety failings that result in the loss of life.
The incident which resulted in minor injuries to a nine year old girl and the unfortunate fatal head injuries sustained by Ava-May Littleboy raises questions about the lack of adequate safety protocols, including but not limited to the failure to carry out an annual test and certification of the imported inflatable equipment under the ADIPS scheme which is a scheme for carrying out checks that are comparable to a vehicle MOT.
It is essential for employers to understand that health and safety in the workplace is not an option. Employers have a legal duty to ensure suitable and sufficient risk assessments are carried out by a competent person and to implement robust safety protocols, along with appropriate training, to prevent accidents and incidents and to protect the health and well-being of workers and those who might be affected by the Company’s undertakings, which in this case was a very young child just having some fun with a friend.
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