Royal Canberra Hospital Demolition

The demolition of the Royal Canberra Hospital building through a planned implosion had been scheduled for July 13th, 1997. The "event" had been publicised, and a crowd estimated to be in excess of 100 000 had turned up.

Some of the appointments to roles were filled by people who were asked "to undertake a function well beyond their experience, qualifications and skills", the contractor was selected without considering their ability to evaluate implosions, and the risk assessment of the implosion was carried out by persons with no knowledge of implosions.

The risk assessment was carried out under the assumption that the implosion was safe.

There was no independent assessment by a structural engineer and demolitions expert. The meetings during the tendering phase gave the impression of a "sham process" and a "rubber stamp process".

Confusion existed as to responsibilities of regulators. The regulators involved also failed to act when work was not carried out, e.g., a bund wall and sandbagging. Estimates suggest that the trajectory of the fragment would have been intercepted by a 2 or 3 metre high bund wall.

The day for the demolition had been picked on the basis of fewer people being nearby, a feature of the operational envelope which was soon invalidated. The publicity for the event had been issued by people with little knowledge of the possible risks, and having a crowd there increased the chance of something going wrong.

The original plan called for 130kg of explosives being used. Not only was the wrong sort of explosive used, but between 480kg and 500kg was used.

There were a number of other technical problems, including: the use of a steel backing plate instead of a soft backing plate, incorrect cutting of the columns, the failure to pre-weaken columns by using cutting charges and kick charges, the lack of independent advice on implosions and structure, the explosives were placed on the incorrect side of the columns facing the blast out over the lake, and the protective measures and testing were inadequate.

The implosion caused a 1kg fragment of steel to be launched and killed a spectator, 12 year old Katie Bender, on the far side of the lake.

The fatal fragment of steel was a part of a backing plate, and is believed to have come from one of the two columns on the lower ground floor. Each of these columns was loaded with a greater amount of explosive than was used on the ground floor columns.

The enquiry made recommendations regarding: regular renewal of a Shotfirers Permit, each explosive project requiring an individual application and permit, and inspections being carried out on the use and storage of explosives.

Although demolition of a reasonable standard building may be considered by some to be a simple operation, it is a good reminder that when developing a system, it is necessary to consider how to safely decommission and dispose of that system.


Application of competency requirements may have prevented the incident.


Safety-criticality should not be decided upon before hazard identification and risk assessment.


An independent safety assessment may have provided the second opinion necessary to ensure that the analysis and implementation was carried out correctly.


The principle of attenuation, a form of inherent safety, had been applied originally, but circumvented through the publicity.


The executive summary of the enquiry.