The recent tragedy at the Gold Coast's Dreamworld theme park, in which four people lost their lives on the Thunder River Rapids ride, has cast a stark spotlight on health and safety standards not only at Dreamworld, but at theme parks across Australia. Though the full details of the accident have not yet been fully disclosed, the incident has sent shock waves across the resort industry, with many doubting whether Dreamworld can fully recover.

Dreamworld isn't just any run-of-the-mill theme park. It's Australia's biggest, with many of the tallest and fastest rides in the country calling the resort home. During 2014, over 2 million thrill -seekers passed through the gates of sister parks Dreamworld, WhiteWater World and the SkyPoint Climb, with owner Ardent Leisure stating that the combined resorts earned a total of $100.1 million in 2014, an increase of 3.1 per cent from the year previous.

The Dreamworld incident has sent shock waves across the resort industry, with many doubting whether Dreamworld can fully recover.

An nightmare at Dreamworld

You'd be forgiven for thinking that such a profitable, high-profile theme park would have only the highest of safety standards in place. However, it appears that Dreamworld has missed the mark not only on this fatal occasion, but on several others, too.

Speaking to the Guardian Australia, Ben Swan, Queensland secretary of the Australian Workers' Union (AWU) said that there had been multiple concerns raised about the park over the past 18 months, none of which were addressed in any great detail. For example, a complaint lodged way back in October 2012 stated that several of the park's rides desperately needed attention, with rust notably visible and even falling into pools below.

Large leaks, cracks and chips were spotted on slides, with tape used to mask the damage. Perhaps even more alarmingly, Queensland licence stickers could be seen, which would be reassuring were they not out of date. This only raised questions as to when the rides were last professionally inspected.

Who's liable? 

It appears, then, as though the recent tragedy really was an accident waiting to happen. Indeed, a Brisbane lawyer has told ABC News that she believes that the Thunder River Rapids ride wasn't a freak occurrence. So, what was it?

"Cases like this generally aren't just freak accidents, it's generally a series of events or something has actually gone wrong to result in such a significant catastrophic event," said Alison Barrett.

"If Dreamworld is prosecuted, the highest penalty is up to $3 million for a corporation. So Dreamworld itself, and then the directors themselves can also be held personally liable and face up to five years in jail and other hefty penalties," she warned.

Dreamworld, though, have countered, stating that the ride underwent its mechanical and structural safety engineering inspection just one month ago.

The safety of theme park rides has been called into question after the Dreamworld tragedy.The safety of theme park rides has been called into question after the Dreamworld tragedy.

What happens next?

Regardless of who or what was actually to blame for the deaths of four people at Dreamworld, the Queensland government has announced that it is in the process of launching a broad-ranging safety audit of all of the state's theme parks, beginning with Dreamworld itself. Additionally, the government is also preparing to launch a review of all WHS processes in the state.

"This is about protecting visitors to our theme parks and restoring public confidence in Queensland's prime tourism assets ahead of the busy Christmas holiday season," said Queensland Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace. All of Queensland's theme parks are set to be thoroughly inspected before the end of November. Though the true causes of what happened at Dreamworld have yet to be determined, it's sure to shake the industry to its core.

At AlertForce, courses in work health and safety have always been at the very core of our offering. To help prevent terrible tragedies such as the one at Dreamworld, the industry is going to need skilled, trained WHS professionals to ensure such an awful accident never occurs again. With a qualification from AlertForce, you can lend a hand in keeping the general public safe. Be sure to contact our expert team to find out more.