Increased regulations needed for amusement rides

28 July 2022 By Lauren Croft

State governments must implement safer amusement park ride regulations in order to prevent further deaths, writes Beth Rolton.

As show season rolls around again, many of us bundle our families off to our local show for a fun day out. Unfortunately, show rides have been the cause of many injuries and even deaths in recent years.  

On 12 September 2014, eight-year-old Adelene Leong sustained fatal injuries when she was ejected from her seat on the Airmaxx 360 at the Royal Adelaide Show. Last month, the findings from an inquest into her death were published. The Deputy State Coroner found that her death “could and should have been prevented”. At many times prior to her death, there were missed opportunities that could have prevented this tragedy. The Airmaxx 360 ride had been plagued with complaints prior to the Adelaide Show, and there were 22 injury reports relating to the ride in the three days prior to Adelene’s death.

This raises the question of whether this tragedy could have occurred in Queensland and whether the safety regulations that apply to amusement rides are sufficient.  

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What are the main causes of amusement ride incidents?

Statistics from Work Health and Safety Queensland indicate that there were 111 serious amusement ride incidents in Australia between 2001 and 2016. A significant number of these incidents were caused by operator error. The potential for human error, particularly when these amusement rides are being constantly moved from show to show, is high.  

Regulations in Queensland

In response to the significant incident at Dreamworld in 2016, the Queensland government undertook a review of the Work Health and Safety Regulations regarding amusement ride safety. This review considered ride safety for all amusement rides, from big theme parks right down to local shows and fairs.

Queensland reform

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The recommendations of the review investigated in the wake of the Dreamworld incident came into effect on 1 May 2019. They specifically regulate amusement rides and require regular inspections, mandatory training and more detailed information to be recorded in logbooks.

All show rides are required to undergo major inspections, usually every 10 years, by a registered professional engineer. These inspections are in addition to annual inspections by an engineer and daily inspections by the operator with management and control of the ride.

The Queensland reforms introduced mandatory instruction and training for amusement ride operators. Operators are required to have been deemed competent before they are able to operate a ride and also have to be clearly identifiable to the public as an operator. 

Show ride operators are required to maintain logbooks that detail the operators, previous inspections and enforcement notices issued in relation to the ride. Additionally, logbooks now must be provided to the engineer when they undertake major inspections and to the event organisers, if requested.

Further improvements following South Australian inquest

One of the recommendations in the inquest findings was for the establishment of a nationwide regulatory process, a database of design registration numbers and better vetting of ride inspectors.

The owners of the Airmaxx 360 had imported the ride from Spain and were required to have the ride inspected by engineers and then have the design registered with a registration number. The owners failed to do this and used the design registration number for a different ride to operate the Airmaxx 360.  

The implementation of a national database for registration of all show rides would allow regulators in all states and territories to verify the design registration of every show ride. The Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (Queensland) requires the registration of plant designs; however, this is only maintained at a state level, and these registrations are not readily available on a national database.

It was also recommended that a nationwide panel of qualified persons be established to assess the skills of any person inspecting amusement rides and that any person undertaking inspections participates in mandatory continuing education. In Queensland, the only requirements for a person undertaking inspections are that they have the skill and qualification to carry out the inspection and that they are a registered engineer. There is no national assessment of their skills, nor is there any requirement for continuing education.

Whilst there have been significant reforms in Queensland when it comes to safety of amusement rides, the South Australian deputy coroner has called for “fundamental change in the operation and governance of high-energy rides in Australia.” To ensure public confidence in the amusement ride industry, the Queensland government and all other states must take heed of these findings and implement these recommendations to avoid any further preventable deaths and injuries.

Beth Rolton is a partner leader of the Cairns practice at Travis Schultz & Partners.

Increased regulations needed for amusement rides
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