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*Dr Matthew J.I. Woolley PhD (OHS), LLB, BA (Soc), GDip. Legal Practice, Dip. Public Safety, Dip Project Management.


Dr Matt Woolley - CEO of Global Surf Parks - is an expert in surf park occupational health and safety systems, enterprise governance, incident analysis and regulation with a specific focus on organisational design and capability.

Safety performance is a predominant metric with the capability to rapidly prevent a surf park venture from realising its commercial objectives. Start-up ventures rely heavily on the safety performance of the chosen technology and steady-state operators rely on their own ability to identify, collate, analyse and respond to their own safety performance. A key question is what does the surf park safe operating system look like and how can operators establish and manage safety performance in a way that is tailored for the surf park environment?

The first step is to understand the operating environment of each surf park technology, the full range of potential risks and the factors that contribute to a loss of control. An important aspect of managing surf park safety that can be overlooked in the early phases is the benefit associated with integrating safety control within organisational design, capability, systems and governance frameworks.

A key example surrounds establishing an organisational structure that promotes clear role requirements, expectations and importantly, individual capability needs, such that the role is performed to the highest standard. Once that structure is established, the next opportunity rests with the careful development of position descriptions that, amongst other things, confirm safety responsibilities and boundaries to each role.

That work provides operators the opportunity to then articulate surf park risk groups such that accountability of leaders is consistently reinforced, and each surf park team understands their responsibilities prior to and during operations and importantly the feedback and communication loops necessary to effectively manage surf park safety.

As that structure is established and supported by pragmatic systems of work, core risks and contributing factors are identified and positioned at the forefront of operational risk decision making from the manager of the venue to surf coaches, lifeguards and customer experience staff.

To support that thinking within the surf park sector, five (5) examples of core surf park risk types are presented below to demonstrate and guide risk analysis and evaluation irrespective of the adopted technology. Samples of key contributing factors relevant to each risk type are also presented to demonstrate the range of potential risk considerations. Risk Type

Sample Contributing Factors

Surfer Immersion / Drowning

- Water quality, specifically turbidity.

- Surfer skill level and swimming capability.

- Supervision (systems, capability and governance)

Surfer Contact with Surf Park Liner

- Water quality, specifically turbidity.

- Surfer skill level and swimming capability.

- Supervision (systems, capability and governance)

Surfer Interaction with Wave Generating Machine

- Inadequate design and engineering controls.

- Proximity to surfer take off zone.

- Inadequate barricading, delineation.

- Inadequate safety in design-based testing and analysis.

Surfer Interaction with Surf Craft

- Inadequate surf craft controls (leg ropes)

- Inappropriate surfer rotations and numbers

- Design of peaks, surfer direction and ride length

- Inappropriate wave frequency

- Water movement and backwash

Surfer Access and Egress to the water

- Inadequate water entry / exit points

- Design of gates and access points

- Crowd control processes and wayfinding

- Liner surface design and maintenance

Using this type of an approach assists developers and designers in preparing safety and broader risk management cases to support regulator discussions and quickly establishes confidence from early investors through to surfers. Pragmatically, engaging the right people, with the appropriate level of expertise and understanding of the surf park operating environment and technology is essential for all designers, operators and developers.

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