When good Engineering and Safety Leadership does not happen

I have been following the Dreamworld coronial inquest in the media and it makes me reflect on the role, and value, of modern safety engineering practices and the need for engineering competence at the board and senior leadership level in organisations.

I won’t comment on the specifics of the Dreamworld incident; but I am going to comment on two themes that are appearing that are specific to good engineering and safety leadership.

The first is the role and the value of the HAZOP process. The second is the value of engineering competence at a board and senior leadership level in any organisation that is required to manage a public safety risk.

The ABC reported that the “raft hit another stranded on a conveyor belt after a large pump failed and water levels drastically dropped”.

The HAZOP process is intended to foresee preventable hazards in a process, so that engineering controls can be designed into the system to prevent that hazard from occurring. The controls might be, for example, the automatic triggering of an emergency stop sequence when a hazardous condition is detected.

The HAZOP is normally undertaken in a workshop forum with a broad cross section of participants, including designers, operators and asset managers over a range of disciplines and is facilitated by a professional HAZOP facilitator. The HAZOP systematically reviews process diagrams and drawings using a set of trigger words (such as high pressure, low level, loss of power) to stimulate analysis of what will happen when things go wrong.

The HAZOP is a key engineering safety tool that is essential to ensure safety in design. Most (if not all) Professional Engineers would be familiar with the process and understand its role. The HAZOP is not the only safety in design tool, it is accompanied by risk assessments, constructibility assessments, failure modes effects analysis and safety integrity level studies.

If I look at Ardent Leasure’s board, I do not see any Professional Engineers. I see lawyers, economists, accountants and others; but I do not see anyone with a professional engineering qualification. If I contrast this to the board of a typical top tier mining or gas company, with a modern and effective safety management system, I see a strong representation from the engineering profession and strong technical backgrounds.

A well structured board has a breadth of experience and the capability of understanding the business. If representation from a key discipline is left out (such as professional engineering), then the board cannot provide balanced direction. If the directors do not know what a HAZOP is (for example), then they cannot direct that one occurs.

I then look at Ardent Leasure’s C-Suite; and again find no professional engineers. I then went to the Board of Professional Engineers Queensland’s register and searched on the words “Ardent” and “Dream” in the company field, in both cases the response was “there are no records”.

Professional Engineers are the custodians of public safety in the design and asset management of infrastructure. Professional Engineers need to be established in custodial roles and recognised for the technical governance that they can provide.

Shareholders need to appoint directors with sufficient professional engineering experience to govern the business with respect to its asset integrity and safety obligations.

Directors need to appoint a C-Suite that understands the physics of their business and have the capability and experience to implement engineering asset integrity systems and appropriate engineering safety systems. Where an organisation includes plant, equipment or systems that present significant risks that must be controlled through the application of professional engineering, the C-Suite must include a Chief Engineer (or at least a COO or CEO with professional engineering qualifications).

The C-Suite needs to resource sufficient professional engineering, asset management and maintance capability within the organisation and empower them to do their job.

Finally, we must respect the BEPQ registration process in Queensland and insist that both internal and external professional engineering services are provided, or supervised, by RPEQs.

These rules are as true in a theme park as they are in a power station, mine, gas production facility or manufacturing plant.

In memory of Kate Goodchild, Luke Dorsett, Roozi Aragi and Cindy Low; and with the greatest respect to their families and friends.


1 thought on “When good Engineering and Safety Leadership does not happen”

  1. A very relevent line of critique. The foundation of a theme park business is the application of the laws of physics to engineered structures and systems to create extraordinary human experiences, within specific limits, which are absolutely repeatable and predictable. The inescapable and unforgivable laws of physics, which peoples lives depend on, quite possibly receives less focus than the non physical ideals of business, power, and politics with a board of directors from arts and humanities schools (who may not know the acronym HAZOP).

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