Saturday, November 27

Government proposes stricter safety rules for adventure activity operators

The government wants to introduce stricter safety rules for adventure activity operators, in response to the deadly Whakaari / White Island eruption in 2019.

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The drama broke out on December 9, 2019, killing 22 people.
Photo: Michael Schade

There were 47 people on the island, most of them tourists, when it exploded. Twenty-two people died and many others were seriously injured.

He pushed for a review of adventure activity regulations and the Minister of Safety and Workplace Relations, Michael Wood, today presented a set of proposals to strengthen them.

At the moment, the regulatory regime does not explicitly address risks that come from natural hazards such as rockslides, storm surge, floods, eruptions, and avalanches.

That means there is not enough guarantee that all operators are managing these risks well, said the proposal document from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

“There is a high rate of damage in adventure activities from natural hazard events, and this rate does not appear to be decreasing over time,” he said.

“On average, six people die in adventure activities per year, four of them are caused by natural hazard events.”

Catastrophic events related to natural hazards, with more than five deaths, occur at least every 10 years in the sector, MBIE said.

Currently, neither the adventure activity regulations nor the safety auditing standard have specific requirements that operators have clear, pre-established policies and processes for when activities are canceled due to overly risky conditions.

That means it is up to each operator to determine which systems are right for their particular situation, MBIE said.

To address that, the government wants to introduce explicit requirements to ensure that operators do everything reasonably practical to assess and manage the risks from natural hazards that may affect their activities. Additionally, you want to ensure that operators have clear policies and processes to consider when risks may be unacceptable and suspend activities.

Stricter rules for landowners

There will also be stricter rules for landowners allowing access to adventure activity operators.

“In some cases, landowners will be in a better position than operators to know and obtain information about certain hazards, for example, if there is a part of the land that often has landslides or is prone to flooding,” he said MBIE.

“We have heard some land owners and managers take a hands-off approach to natural hazard management and view risk management as largely the responsibility of the operators.”

Under the proposals, owners will have to be involved in managing natural hazards, providing information to operators or assessing and managing risks.

In many cases, MBIE said that the land owners or managers would be the Department of Conservation or local councils.

However, it would also cover private landowners who allow adventure activity operators to use their land.

The government also wants to introduce a risk rating system, which would establish how often operators would need to be audited.

Additionally, you want to improve risk disclosure to participants, with detailed requirements on how and when risk disclosures should be made and what they should include.

“We have heard that participants do not always feel that the information provided by the operators gives them a good understanding of the risks involved in adventure activities,” said MBIE.

The role of WorkSafe

Changes are also proposed to strengthen the role of WorkSafe.

WorkSafe is prosecuting 13 individuals and organizations for alleged health and safety violations in the run-up to the Whakaari eruption.

The defendants were: the owner of the island, Whakaari Management Limited, and its directors, Andrew, James and Peter Buttle; GNS Science; the National Emergency Management Agency; White Island Tours Limited; Volcanic Air Safaris Limited; Aerius Limited; Kahu NZ Limited; Inflite Charters Limited; ID Tours New Zealand Limited; and Tauranga Tourism Services Limited.

The charges are not related to the events that occurred on the day of the eruption or to rescue efforts.

All 13 parties have pleaded not guilty.

A separate independent review of Whakaari’s handling by WorkSafe before the eruption is months out of date.

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