Safety Governance – Lessons from the Dreamworld tragedy

Ensure your organisation isn’t making critical WHS mistakes.

In October 2016 four park guests were killed when their raft capsized on the Thunder River Rapids Ride at Queensland’s Dreamworld Park. Ardent Leisure was subsequently charged with three offences under section 32 of the Queensland Work Health and Safety Act. They pleaded guilty to all charges and were fined $3.6 million.

The incident inflicted a massive personal toll on the victim’s families. Sydney mother Cindy Low, along with Canberra mother Kate Goodchild, her brother Luke Dorsett, and his partner Roozi Araghi, were the four people killed in the incident. Nearly four years later, on the day of the sentencing, Prosecutor Aaron Guilfoyle read out victim impact statements which described, inter alia, “loneliness in terrible grief, severe mental health consequences, and ongoing trauma.”

While much has been written around the engineering failures of this incident, the objective of this report is to highlight the systemic, cultural and governance failures at Ardent Leisure, so that board members and executive officers of other organisations can consider the all-important reflection – Could this happen in our organisation?

The Coroner’s Inquest clearly showed that it is possible to have the appearance of a good safety system in place but without the right culture to shape behaviours and decisions such system can be largely ineffective. This is clearly one of the most important factors from the Inquest, and Coroner McDougall, in his scathing attack on the Ardent Leisure, makes the point that it is the responsibility of the Board and CEO to establish and maintain this culture: “Such a culpable culture can exist only when leadership from the Board down are careless in respect of safety. That cannot be allowed”

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    “Such a culpable culture can exist only when leadership from the Board down are careless in respect of safety. That cannot be allowed”

    We are known by the company we keep