QLD Government refers Dreamworld to WHS prosecutor following inquest

With the inquest into the deaths of four people at Dreamworld in 2016 complete, the Queensland Government has referred the matter to the independent Work Health and Safety Prosecutor to decide whether action will be taken against Dreamworld’s owner, Ardent Leisure, under the Work Health and Safety Act.

The Queensland Government accepted the findings of Coroner James MacDougall, who conducted the inquest following the deaths of Cindy Low, Kate Goodchild, Luke Dorsett and Roozi Araghi on the Thunder River Rapids Ride at Dreamworld on 25 October 2016.

The Coroner delivered his findings late last month, with the full findings and recommendations published online.

The report covers a wide range of issues which have been seen as contributory to the tragic events, going back over an extended period of time, according to an analysis of the Coroner’s report conducted by the AIHS, which said these issues included but were not confined to:

  • Confusion within the company as to whose responsibility was what,
  • A lack of focused safety auditing,
  • Problems with the availability of suitably qualified ride consultant engineers,
  • A lack of clarity in Australian standards linked to rides,
  • Shortcomings in regulatory oversight,
  • A lack of training for staff and an overall lack of systems and processes within the company (which the company Ardent Leisure pre-emptively rejected prior to any finding, relating to systems of training, or lack of record-keeping)

In addition to referring Ardent Leisure to the Workplace Health and Safety Regulatory Authority, the Coroner has also referred an engineer to the Board of Professional Engineers of Queensland, for failures linked to issuing of a plant (ride) renewal Certificate.

QLD Minister for Education and Minister for Industrial Relations Grace Grace said the majority of recommendations in the findings have already been implemented by the Queensland Government over the past three years in a bid to improve safety on amusement rides.

“We are conducting a thorough examination of the recommendations to determine if more needs to be done to ensure the highest levels of safety in theme parks,” said Minister Grace.

“We have a new regulatory framework in place which fundamentally improves the approach and safety standard for amusement rides and theme parks in Queensland – laws which are nothing short of world class that include:

  • Mandatory major inspections of all amusement rides by qualified engineers every ten years – this is in in addition to the mandatory annual inspections which are already required.
  • More stringent operator training.
  • A comprehensive safety case and licensing regime for major theme parks that includes a full safety assessment of all rides at the park.
  • More stringent record-keeping for all amusement rides in relation to inspections, maintenance and operator competency.

“We have strengthened Workplace Health and Safety Queensland’s (WHSQ) capabilities through a stronger focus on enforcement and compliance, including comprehensive annual audits on all six major theme parks,” said Minister Grace.

The Government has also begun developing a Code of Practice for the industry to complement the new regulations, in addition to employing 33 additional inspectors, including three engineers to oversee the new safety requirements for major amusement parks.

In addition to the training inspectors already receive, they also now receive specific training on amusement device safety.

“If more regulatory action is needed, we will act swiftly,” said Minister Grace.

“We are committed to providing the highest safety standards, from rides at carnivals and school fairs, to those at our major theme parks.”

A series of recommendations by the Australian Institute of Health & Safety presented at the inquest by Leo Ruschena, Chair of the Institute’s Policy Committee, were addressed and noted by the Commissioner in recommendations.

“For people looking for answers, the problems uncovered in this inquest are extensive,” said AIHS chief executive David Clarke.

“In the breadth of the report and the myriad of issues, we see long-term organisational culture and a lax self-regulatory environment playing an important part in the tragedy.”

Over time, he said the combination of a procession of failures in communications, poor application of monitoring, and lack of clarity in who is responsible for what reads like a classic accident waiting to happen.

“The Coroner himself said ‘The move to self-regulation is fraught with danger. Self-interest and the drive to contain costs leads to the issues…’ and there is a message in here that we must all grasp” said Clarke.

Source: AIHS, 3 March 2020