Dreamworld 'had trouble hiring staff for safety audits'

Police examine the scene at Dreamworld where four people died after the rapids ride malfunction. Photo: Glenn Hunt. Courtesy: Brisbane Times

Dreamworld had difficulty hiring suitably qualified staff for major safety audits of its “Big 9” thrill rides for 11 months of 2016, the Dreamworld inquest heard from its safety manager on Monday. 

The audits were required by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland for the rides to be classed as “compliant”. 

The Thunder River Rapids Ride – on which four people died on October 25, 2016 – was one of Dreamworld’s Big 9.

Sydney-based mother Cindy Low and Canberra visitors Kate Goodchild, her brother Luke Dorsett and his partner Roozi Araghi all died instantly after being thrown from a raft when the Thunder River Rapids ride malfunctioned.

Mark Thompson, the safety manager at Dreamworld in 2016 and 2017, told the inquest he learnt Dreamworld had a problem with “technical non-compliance” of its Big 9 rides when he began work sifting through what he described as an “archaic” system of files. 

“I was a little surprised with that, yes,” Mr Thompson said. 

The inquest was shown an email from WHSQ on August 17, 2016, when an urgent call for an extension for Dreamworld’s major plant registration was requested by Mr Thompson.

Dreamworld believed it had satisfied its need to be compliant by paying a fee to WHSQ, he said.

Dreamworld received an extension until September 30, 2016, for a suitably trained person to inspect the Big 9 rides.

However, Mr Thompson said attempts to locate a “competently qualified person” to inspect the rides were then “let down” when a person who had been engaged to run the inspections decided to travel overseas without informing Dreamworld.

Outside the inquest, a Dreamworld solicitor subsequently said the compliance checks were completed on the Thunder River Rapids Ride before the four fatalities. 

Mr Thompson said he subsequently applied for a second extension until December 20, 2016.

He told the inquest he did not have suitably trained staff to oversee proactive safety at the park.

He agreed with barrister Matthew Hickey, representing Ms Low, that there were not enough staff employed to cover first aid.

Mr Thompson told the inquest he relied on daily checks and safety audits being run by the park’s engineering department, which employs fitters and electricians.

He said that when he began work he envisaged having a “team of six” with suitable training to oversee the park.

“I needed dedicated safety professionals.

“I needed a safety officer in engineering, I needed a safety officer in compliance.”

He said he made a recommendation for changes to the safety teams to his immediate supervisor, Angus Hutchings, before the fatal incident.

He said his recommended safety staffing model was eventually put in place in early 2017.

Before this, he said his staff were frequently called off to deliver first aid around the theme park.

“Quite often, my staff were pulled away to do first aid.

“Quite often I was doing the groundwork myself, doing the grunt work,” he said.

Mr Thompson said while he attended regular weekly meetings with the park’s senior management, including Dreamworld chief executive Craig Davidson, he had no power to make changes in safety at the park.

In a statement written on August 29, 2017, and discussed on Monday morning, Mr Thompson explained his concerns.

“I may be involved in decisions but I did not have the power to make decisions and I did not make decisions,” his statement reads.

Dreamworld employed two engineers at the theme park, with one of those engineers in a management role.

Mr Thompson finished at Dreamworld in June 2017.

The inquest continues.