An inquest into the death a 14-year-old surf lifesaving competitor on the Gold Coast has been told that the surf race shouldn’t have gone ahead.
A workplace health and safety inspector says a surf lifesaving race that claimed the life of a young competitor should have been delayed or moved.
On an emotional day for the family of 14-year-old Matthew Barclay, an inquest into his 2012 death was told that surf life saving officials are still some way off introducing key safety measures.
Matthew vanished in rough seas during the under-15 board race at the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships at Kurrawa Beach on the Gold Coast on March 28, 2012.
His body was found the next day.
Workplace health and safety inspector and surf lifesaver Peter Hurrey told the Brisbane probe that the decision to start the race in dangerous conditions was “problematic” given that an inflatable rescue boat was stranded on the beach at the time.
“The fact that you’re dealing with kids who aren’t as qualified in one sense and the fact that you didn’t have the safety craft in position … I think it should probably have been either delayed until that was in place and moved … to where the break wasn’t as bad,” he told the court.
Mr Hurrey’s report found that overall, the policies and procedures in place at the event were adequate and properly applied.
However he was scathing of an iPad application used to rate surf conditions and noted a breakdown in communication whereby concerns about the surf weren’t passed on the senior officials.
He also referred to a “can do” attitude by Surf Life Saving Australia where there was a reluctance to cancel events.
Matthew Barclay’s younger sister Lauren left the court visibly distraught after Mr Hurrey’s evidence, and her father Stephen said some parts of the inquest were “very difficult” to listen to.
He told reporters he’d like to see recommendations to prevent another tragedy occurring.
“Firm recommendations that concern policies and processes and the way carnivals … are run,” he told reporters.
The inquest heard that since Matthew’s death, the second in two years, the national titles had moved to a different beach and bright vests had been introduced for competitors.
Helmets were mandatory for surf boat craft competitors in heavy seas and next year, younger competitors will race on separate days from older surf lifesavers.
However the introduction of flotation vests and helmets for other competitors won’t occur before they are discussed at a Surf Life Saving Australia board meeting in May 2015, a month after next year’s event.
SLSA coastal risk and safety manager Anthony Bradstreet said progress had been made on testing flotation vests to ensure they meet Australian standards.
“That is a significant step in terms of delivering a real world application,” he said.
The inquest resumed on Monday after it was adjourned following two days of sittings last December to allow for the workplace health and safety report to be compiled.
It is expected to wrap up on Tuesday.