Three Injured When Ferris Wheel Gondola Detached


On 5 April 2010 at the Byron Bay Blues Bay Festival, a gondola of a ferris wheel detached and fell 3-4 m to the ground. The three teenage girls in the gondola were injured, one seriously.

The company that owned the ferris wheel was prosecuted for breach of s 8(2) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000 (NSW), namely for failure to ensure that people other than employees were not exposed to health or safety risks from the conduct of its undertaking. It initially pleaded guilty but then sought to have the plea vacated. Eventually the company again pleaded guilty.

The Occupational Health and Safety Regulation 2001 requires amusement devices to be operated and maintained according to Australian standard AS 3533. The standard requires load-supporting shafts to undergo non-destructive testing every two years and a log book to be kept. The company had contracted engineers to service the ferris wheel but had not made sure the legal obligations had been met.

In the Industrial Court of NSW, the evidence of a consulting engineer showed that significant wear of the sweep axle on the gondola had not been detected during maintenance, apparently because, during inspections of load bearing surfaces, grease and dirt had not been removed so the integrity of the axles could not be adequately assessed. There was no indication in the log book that non-destructive testing of the gondola sweep axles had been carried out. The company should have put in place an inspection and maintenance program for the moving and load-bearing parts of the ferris wheel, and the program should have included appropriate testing every two years. Its failure to do that meant that the wear and cracking in the axle had gone undetected.

The extensive repairs carried out after the incident included redesign of the sweep axle to insert an inner steel rod as a support mechanism if the axle should fail again. The log book was revised and a critical components list was added, as required by the Australian standard. The new maintenance program required the ferris wheel to be tested annually and visually inspected every six months.

The court explained that the company could not escape liability by pleading that it had delegated responsibility for the amusement device to qualified engineers. Relying on the advice or work of skilled people with relevant professional qualifications could only be accepted as a mitigating factor. It would have been a simple matter for the company to make sure the engineers servicing the ferris wheel adhered to the Australian standard. Its failure to do that had made it reasonably foreseeable that the device could fail and passengers could be seriously injured, or even killed. The offence was serious.

For the guilty plea, the court allowed a discount of 10% in the penalty assessment. It accepted that the company had cooperated with the investigation and taken appropriate steps to upgrade the ferris wheel and its maintenance program to prevent it from failing again. The court also took into account the limited financial capacity of the company to pay a fine. It was convicted and fined $40,000.

Inspector Walker v Earthquake Promotions Pty Ltd (No 2) [2014] NSWIRComm 5 (20 February 2014)