Barack and Michelle Obama’s Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb is now under investigation for flouting numerous safety rules, Daily Mail Australia can reveal.
The Obamas were given special VIP access to do the iconic Bridge Climb without the usual jumpsuit and harness normally required by customers paying up to $408 each for one of the world’s most unique experiences.
The former President and First Lady were pictured on Wednesday casually climbing the precarious walkway high above the busy peak hour traffic below.
While the couple were given official permission to skip wearing the jumpsuits and clip-on safety harnesses, Mrs Obama was also spotted with her jumper wrapped around her midriff, sparking serious safety concerns.
Other members of their entourage were carrying their iPhones while on the climb, which can easily fall on to carries the risk of dropping them a risk of them dropping on to traffic below, and restricting them to gripping the guardrail with just one hand.
Safety rules for the climb are notoriously strict and inflexible, with Bridge Climb enforcing them with no exceptions.
The NSW Government has launched an internal investigation after former First Lady Michelle Obama was allowed to climb Sydney Harbour Bridge with a jumper tied around her waist, while an aide held her phone loose in her hand
US TV star Oprah Winfrey was required to strap in and buckle up before being allowed onto the Harbour Bridge when she visited in 2010
‘The idea of a jumper or a phone falling from above onto the windscreen of a car below doesn’t bear thinking about,’ said health and safety expert Ben Chinwah, director of Benchmark OHS, based in Sydney.
Benchmark OHS director Ben Chinwah has raised concerns over the safety practices in place for the President’s bridge climb
‘If the regulator, SafeWork NSW, was looking at that, they might be ringing the operator. We deal with these kinds of incidents all the time where there are issues of potential negligence.
‘They have to manage the risks – and why should the former President of the United States get special treatment in our country?’
Transport New South Wales organised the bridge climb after it was requested by the Obamas during their flying visit to Sydney this week on the president’s speaking tour of Australia.
A spokesman insisted the visit ‘followed standard safety protocols that are in place for visiting dignitaries, and are regularly implemented’.
But a TfNSW department source admitted officials were now investigating how Mrs Obama came to do the climb without anyone noticing her jumper or taking action.
It is understood VIPs and celebrities can be allowed to do the bridge climb without a safety harness as part of standard protocols put in place by the state government.
Former NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet was recently photographed in a suit on the bridge walkway without a harness and Denmark’s Australian Crown Princess Mary is also understood to have made the climb while untethered.
An assistant also appears to be holding an iPhone in her hand (at the far rear) behind Michelle Obama, while the former president and the members of his entourage do not appear to be maintaining the recommended three points of contact with the walkway at all times
The pictures are in stark contrast to other celebrity visits including Sunrise team Samantha Armytage, Natalie Barr and Mark Beretta in 2014 who wore BridgeClimb jumpsuits and harnesses
Former NSW Premier was previously pictured on the bridge walkway in his suit without any safety harness in a state government publicity photograph
The state government applies different rules to those enforced by independent company BridgeClimb Sydney, which has exclusive commercial use of the landmark.
‘They have had people go up there and try to commit suicide, which is one big reason why they have the safety harnesses,’ revealed Mr Chinwah.
‘But there are a few other different aspects as well where people have to be clipped in for their own safety, such as slips, trips and falls.
‘The weather on Wednesday was changeable, going from sunny to showery so the surfaces could have been wet and slippery without anyone realising.
‘What if someone had a heart attack up there? The right control measure to prevent falling is to have those restraining harnesses.
‘The operator has identified these risks which is why they have the precautions in place for the public – so why should the Obamas have special consideration?’
He said one security personnel appeared to be carrying a bag while an assistant, who was carrying an iPhone, added to the high risk.
President Barak Obama and his wife Michelle made their high above the traffic on the busy Sydney Harbour Bridge without any harnesses and carrying items which potentially could have fallen on the cars below
Prince Harry dodged the jumpsuit but he too was was hooked up to the guardrail in a safety harness when he did the bridge climb in 2018 with former prime minister Scott Morrison behind him
Visitors making the thrilling trip with commercial company BridgeClimb must wear jumpsuits and have a safety harness clipped onto the rail, even celebrities like sprint star Usain Bolt, pictured here in 2010
Additionally he said former president Obama appeared not to be keeping grip on the handrail during the climb up and down the bridge.
He added: ‘He’s got his hand up like he’s waving.
‘He obviously doesn’t have three points of contact as he should do, and neither do those people carrying items in their hands.
‘When you’ve got a high profile person like this, I’d think they would be doing a risk assessment on the whole process.
‘You would think they would have extra precautions in place, especially for former presidents.’
Odrik Oliver, who works as a Bridge Climb leader, told Daily Mail Australia that although they are the only private company to run climbs, the government sometimes takes special guests over.
He added: ‘Bridge Climb wouldn’t do it without attaching the harnesses and all that.’
A TfNSW spokesman confirmed they were reviewing their safety procedures following the president’s bridge climb.
‘As part of our security protocols with all dignitary visits, a routine review process is undertaken,’ a spokesman told Daily Mail Australia.