Industrial manslaughter is set to become a criminal offence in Queensland following an independent review prompted by the death of four people on a Dreamworld water ride last year.
Two men and two women were killed on the Thunder River Rapids ride at Dreamworld on the Gold Coast when the ride malfunctioned, throwing two people out and trapping two inside.
Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace has moved to introduce legislation in State Parliament to make industrial manslaughter an offence.
“Industrial manslaughter … is about not only the individual but the corporation, and that’s now going to be part of the Workplace Health and Safety Act with an independent prosecutor to ensure that the independence is maintained in cohort with the director of public prosecutions,” she said.
“This is a serious offence and one that will be handled very professionally in the future to come.”
She said it was too early to tell if it will be used in relation to the Dreamworld incident.
“It’s always there in relation to it, but the investigations are continuing in relation to this matter,” she said.
“There is the ability to have criminal manslaughter charges brought against an individual in relation to these issues at anytime as we’ve seen with the tragedy at Eagle Farm.”
The review also investigated last year’s fatal incident at Eagle Farm Racecourse, where two workers were killed by a falling slab of concrete while they were working on a major redevelopment of the stables.
The builder Claudio D’Alessandro was personally charged with two counts of criminal manslaughter in November.
The Queensland Law Society president Christine Smythe said there was no need for a new offence to be created.
“Currently offences both in the Workplace Health and Safety Act and in the Criminal Code more than sufficiently capture any wrongdoing that might occur in one of these circumstances,” she said.
Amusement ride training
There were 111 serious ride incidents in Australia between 2001 and 2011, and a significant number may be attributed to inadequate training or operator error, according to Work Place Health and Safety.
A high turnover of ride operators, especially at local shows, and a lack of effective operator training were a contributing factor to ride incidents.
It is proposed theme parks, including Dreamworld and Sea World, and mobile operators who assemble mobile carnival rides at the Brisbane Exhibition (Ekka) and school fetes have the same operator licencing requirements.
The licencing would be based on risk level which include low, medium and high.
Under the new mandatory management system, ride operators would need to specify the competency of each ride attendant and supervisor.
But Ms Smythe said it was important young people were not denied employment opportunities.
“The issue here is about attention. Standing by a ride for eight hours solid is not exciting work and so the question is the training given and how that training is supervised,” she said.
“They have a need for more people during school holidays … so they tend to employ uni students or high school students to work in the parks.
“It’s a good way to cut your teeth in the workplace.”
Public safety ombudsman to be established
Ms Grace said there was a recommendation to establish a Public Safety Ombudsman to ensure “mandatory major safety inspections of amusement devices”.
The review found there are significant concerns about poor mechanical integrity and a lack of modern safety measures for older rides.
Under the existing legislation, rides are inspected annually but the report said this fell short of the “major inspection” required for other machinery including high-rise cranes.
Ride inspections should include a close examination of all critical components, even if it requires dismantling the ride and stripping the paint to allow a thorough inspection.
These inspections should be done by a competent person with formal engineering qualifications.
“One of the recommendations is to ensure that we have experienced people that not only do the checking and the auditing and the repairing [of rides] but also the operation,” she said.
Ms Smythe questioned the practicality of that suggestion.
“There’s 1.1 inspectors and advisors per 10,000 employees,” Ms Smythe said.
“If there is a shortfall in the existing office and you go and create a new office where is the money coming from? Why is there money being diverted to the creation of a new office when the current office is under-resourced?”
Ms Grace said the Government would accept all 58 recommendations fully or in-part.
“The Workplace Health and Safety board together with the industry, together with my department will be working to ensure that we implement those recommendations which will be put our auditing and our managing of these theme parks at the very best that the world can provide.”
The report also heard evidence that although there is no requirement for “major inspections”, the majority of ride owners indicated they are completed.