Ardent Leisure may face fines up to $3 million if convicted of suspected breaches of workplace law, following the deaths of four people on one of its theme park rides.
According to Queensland south-eastern coroner James McDougall, Dreamworld’s parent company “may have committed an offence under workplace law”, in relation to the Thunder River Rapids ride tragedy.
His comments came after an inquest into the deaths of Cindy Low, Kate Goodchild, Luke Dorsett and Roozi Araghi on the ride in 2016 found a “systemic failure” in all safety aspects at Dreamworld.
All four victims were killed when their raft collided with an empty vessel and flipped. Led by McDougall, the inquest heard a water pump feeding the ride had broken down, which caused water levels to drop suddenly, ABC News reported.
If a qualified engineer had properly inspected the ride, the coroner said, the accident could have been prevented, and the ride shut down.
“It was simply a matter of time,” McDougall said, as reported by ABC News.
“That time came on the 25th of October 2016.”
He has referred the company case to the Office of Industrial Relations, headed by Minister Grace Grace, for potential prosecution. According to the Queensland minister, penalties could range from “a maximum of $1.5 million to $3 million” in fines, as well as possible jail time.
“It depends on the category, whether it is seen as reckless or serious breaches, but [penalties] range from a maximum of $1.5 million to $3 million [in] fines, as well as for individuals up to about $600,000 and possible jail as well,” Grace said, as reported by ABC News.
According to the coroner, no evidence suggested a thorough risk assessment of the ride was ever done. McDougall also pointed to failures at the park, including a lack of up-to-date safety controls and automation, which placed a “significant unfair burden” on ride operators.
“Dreamworld placed significant reliance on ride operators to identify risks of issues,” McDougall said, as reported by ABC News.
“It is unfathomable that this serious and important task fell to staff … who didn’t have the requisite qualifications or skill sets to identify such risks.”
McDougall acknowledged significant changes in ride and audit systems had occurred at Dreamworld since the incident.
While positive, he said this pointed to a deficiency in safety management at the theme park before 2016, as reported by ABC News.
“Such a culpable culture can exist only when leadership from the board down are careless in respect of safety,” he said.
In an ASX statement following the release of the coroner’s report, Ardent Leisure said it was committed to implementing the coroner’s recommendations relating to the operations of Dreamworld, and said safety was its number one priority.
The company also said that it was committed to learning from the aviation industry, following the appointment of former principal safety advisor to the Qantas Group, Geoff Sartori, in 2018.
“The Australian commercial aviation industry is seen as a benchmark for safety management and Dreamworld is committed to adopting relevant learnings, developments and safety systems from this industry with the aim of becoming the global benchmark for theme park safety,” it said.
The company added it welcomed the development of the Queensland Government’s new major amusement park safety regulations, which were introduced in 2019 following the Dreamworld tragedy and an accident at an Eagle Farm construction site, which resulted in the deaths of two workers crushed by a concrete slab.
As part of the amended Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 act, amusement parks are now required to produce a ‘safety case’ and adhere to a license regime. It also requires amusement parks to advise the department of any changes in how device operators are being trained or determined as competent; or any decision to commission a new amusement device for the park, among other measures.
Dreamworld has submitted its case to Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, to which it says it continues to direct “significant resources” in union with the department.
This comes after Ardent Leisure warned investors of an impact on its financial performance in the second half of FY20 due in part to the findings in the coroner’s report.
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