Last month, the Rottnest Island jetty collapsed, severely injuring a young boy and two women while they were on a fishing trip. Although serious injuries resulted, luckily no one was killed in this incident. This incident highlights the need for ongoing and thorough condition inspection/investigation of public infrastructure, particularly for aging assets and those in aggressive environments.
The implied safety of public access areas:
Regardless of their age, civil and industrial structures represent potentially hazardous areas to any user. When an employee conducts work on these sites they have explicitly accepted a certain level of risk and (in best practice) have been briefed on site-specific safe work procedures and trained to undertake ongoing risk assessments during access. However, when these same structures are open for general access, the public cannot reasonably be expected to assess and accept that same level of risk: the public implicitly take it on good faith that if a structure is open it has been assessed by the owner to be reasonably safe. When the owners of the site have failed to fully assess the safety of these structures it could represent a breach of the implied safety contract between the owners and the general public. This emphasises the importance of proper (and regular) condition assessments of assets open to the public. Failing to account for this difference in risk mitigation between infrastructure user groups, can expose an unprepared public to potentially unsafe situations.
While the cause or inspection regime of the Rottnest Island jetty cannot be assumed from news reports, its recent collapse demonstrates that in Australia, infrastructure deterioration represents a real risk to public safety. According to Haywood, Gordon and Boully’s paper on Australia’s Bridge Design Load Model (https://trrjournalonline.trb.org/doi/10.3141/1696-36 ), the age and way we use our infrastructure also influences this risk, with approximately 15% of our bridges built pre-1950, and an increase of about 10% per decade in legal truck weight limits since then.
Whether it is a bridge, jetty, high rise building façade or another type of public structure, it is important that sufficient time is taken to assess the condition of a structure to ensure safe access and use for all personnel including the public.
The Rottnest Island jetty collapse was covered by ABC news on 24th Oct, 2018. You can read the full story here: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-10-24/rottnest-island-jetty-collapse-traps-fisherman/10422734