Consequences of chairlift safety failings ‘obvious’ judge

26 October 2007

A County Court judge has said sabotage was an ‘unlikely’ cause of the 2004 Arthurs Seat safety incident in which an elderly woman’s legs were crushed when a chair slid down the cable and crashed into another.

He said inadequate maintenance was more likely the cause, before convicting and fining the Arthurs Seat Scenic Chairlift Pty Ltd $110,000. The company pleaded guilty to one charge laid under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1985.

The company told the court a person unknown was seen climbing on one of the chairs the day before the incident and may have sabotaged it.  

WorkSafe’s investigation found few bolts holding the chairs to the cable were correctly tightened and that scheduled monthly checks were three weeks late at the time of the incident.

The company required the bolts to be tightened to 28 foot pounds*, but testing by WorkSafe (witnessed by a company consultant) several days after the incident found they ranged from less than three to more than 50 foot pounds.

Judge Parsons said only eight of the 64 chairs were correctly secured.

Judge Parsons said the public was entitled to presume appropriate maintenance had been carried out and that the company’s decision to change its ‘not guilty’ plea to ‘guilty’ the day before the trial showed a “modest amount of remorse.”

There had been a similar incident in 2000 after which the company undertook to use a torque wrench to check bolt tension, however the court was told the experience of the company’s mechanic was used to determine whether the bolts were tight.

“The consequences of failing to properly attach the chair were obvious,” Judge Parsons  said.

The court was told:

  • There was no adequate maintenance system to check the torque setting on all the grips in March 2004;
  • The torque settings varied from bolt to bolt;
  • The maintenance system did not adequately ensure that the nuts on the grips were tensioned to 28 ft/lbs;
  • The system failed to adequately ensure that the safety standard required by Canadian chairlift Z98 (or an equivalent) was achieved. Z98 is considered the international standard for chairlifts.
  • The maintenance system failed to ensure that a torque wrench was used when tightening the nuts.

WorkSafe’s Executive Director John Merritt said Victoria’s recreational sector had to acknowledge the need to maintain high standards.

“Just as people going to work need the safest practicable environment, so do those involved in commercial recreational activities.

“Their clients are often among the most vulnerable in the community and trust that their day out will have a happy conclusion.

“Appropriate maintenance and safety systems, training and supervision are basic requirements of running these businesses.

“In this case a lack of systematic maintenance was a major issue. It had serious ramifications for the injured people and their family, and others on the ride that day.”

“WorkSafe’s appeal to other recreation operators is to ensure safety standards are maintained at all times. Maintenance, supervision and appropriate training is essential.”

“WorkSafe’s role is to ensure business operators understand the law and hold them accountable for safety failings. We will help them as far as possible, but ultimately safety is their responsibility.”

* The foot-pound is a unit of work or energy which measures the effort needed to move an object.  It is the amount of energy expended when a force of one pound acts through a distance of 1 foot along the direction of the force. A torque wrench is used to make the measurements.

The charge: Section 22 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1985 refers to the duty of employers to take care for the safety of people other than employees. The maximum fine under this section of the 1985 Act is $250,000. Penalties were increased to more than $900,000 under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, which took effect on 1 July 2005.

Further Information

Media inquiries: Michael Birt 0411-256-605 or 9641-1216

Public inquiries: Call the WorkSafe Advisory Service on 1800-136-089 between 8:30am and 5pm Monday to Friday, email or write to Advisory Service, PO Box 4306, Melbourne, 3001.