In July 2020 charges were finally laid against Ardent Leisure Ltd (Ardent) the owners of Dreamworld for the horrific accident in October 2016 which resulted in the death of four individuals who had been riding the Thunder River Rapids Ride (read our earlier article here). Ardent was charged with significant breaches of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (QLD) specifically for breaches of their primary duties of care to other persons, and for their Category 2 breaches of failure to comply with health and safety.
On 28 September 2020, the Southport Magistrates Court issued a penalty of $3.6 million to Ardent. This is the largest safety prosecution fine that has ever been imposed in the history of Australia.
The Court found that Ardent failed to do all that was reasonably practicable to protect the health and safety of persons other than workers in failing to:
- provide and maintain safe plant and structures;
- provide and maintain safety systems of work; and
- provide the information, training, instruction and supervision that was necessary to protect all persons from safety risks arising from the Thunder River Rapids Ride.
By failing their duties of care, Ardent exposed the individuals and many others to a significant risk of death or serious injury or illness.
Most notably, the Court found that while Ardent had some controls in place there was dependency and overreliance on administrative controls which were insufficient to mitigate the high risks. There were no controls on the ride in the event that the administrative controls failed. This was demonstrated when the ride failed due to a failure of the operator to comply with safe operating procedures. A lack of secondary controls could have averted the accident and significantly reduced the risk.
Interestingly, the penalty issued in this case is higher than the $3 million penalty ordered against Brisbane Auto Recycling Pty Ltd (read our earlier article here) which was for the more serious charge of Industrial Manslaughter.
While there is no doubt that Ardent is guilty of failing their primary duties, the excessive fine suggests that this was more than a penalty but was intended to serve as a deterrent to other employers and also appease the political and media backlash surrounding this incident.
It will be interesting to see what future penalties are ordered, after this one has set another record for Queensland.
Written by Nina Hoang
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