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Safety in New Zealand adventure tourism

Safety in New Zealand adventure tourism
May 25, 2010

Over the past five years, 29 participants have died (and at least 540 have been seriously injured) when participating in adventure tourism activities in New Zealand.

As a result, the New Zealand Department of Labour (DoL) is currently conducting a detailed gap analysis of risk management and safety provisions in the adventure and outdoor commercial sectors in New Zealand, due to be completed by 31st May.

In advance of the gap analysis, earlier this year the DoL released three reports prepared as part of a Review of Risk Management and Safety in the Adventure and Outdoor Commercial Sectors.

The reports were: a stock-take of risk management and safety provisions in New Zealand’s adventure and outdoor commercial sectors; an international stock-take, so that New Zealand’s risk management and safety provisions can be compared with those of other countries; and a summary consultation report.

The review was announced last year by Prime Minister John Key following a number of incidents in the adventure and outdoor sectors and consequent questioning of safety standards in outdoor commercial activities.

The review is led by the DoL, and is being overseen by a governance group that includes representatives from central and local government and national organisations representing the outdoor and tourism sectors.

The New Zealand stock-take describes: the profile of the sector; accident and injury occurrences, reporting, investigations and enforcement activity; the safety management framework applicable to the sector; agency jurisdictions and resources; and consumer education.

The international stock-take discusses the risk and safety management frameworks of Australia, the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Switzerland, Canada, Norway, Costa Rica, the United States of America, Chile, and, to a lesser extent, India and Brazil.

The report on the consultation conducted by the Department summarises key themes from 142 responses to a questionnaire returned by a range of outdoor sector operators, staff, associations, organisations and other experts.

DoL Head of Workplace Health and Safety Policy Craig Armitage says the responses show that while most operators generally understand and are committed to the need for sound safety practices, they have also made suggestions for improvement.

Armitage explains that “the Department of Labour has also written to people who have lost family members over the last five years and invited them to provide comments. These comments will be collated separately.”

Fatalities occurred in the following adventure activities: guided canyoning (seven fatalities); guided climbing (four fatalities); rafting (3); guided diving (2); white-water boarding (2); guided heli-skiing (2); tandem hang gliding/paragliding flight (2); commercial microlight aircraft flight (2);guided ATV riding (1); sand boarding (1); bridge swinging (1); ski-field workplace accident (1); and jet boating (1).

Principal activities resulting in serious injury included: ski field injuries - including snowboard, indoor skiing and ski lift injuries (135 injuries); horse trekking (36 injuries); luges (32); go-karting (18); Sky diving - including tandem parachuting (18); amusement devices and fair ground equipment (16); climbing walls (13); and mountain bikes (13).

In relation to serious injuries, DoL stated “just under half of the people involved in accidents were using infrastructural attractions - particularly ski field activities and luge rides. Sometimes these are activities without direct and/or individualised supervision and accessed by the public on payment of a fee to use the attraction.”

In a recent New Zealand’s Tourism Industry Blog, Michelle Ackers, owner of ADEPT Marketing, highlighted that “New Zealand is well positioned in the world of adventure tourism, we are the innovators and leaders of bungy, and have the perfect setting and natural resources to offer a comprehensive range of tourist activities that are land, water and air based.”

Ackers added that “every so often we are reminded of its risks when a tourist in New Zealand suffers serious injuries or even death by undertaking one of these experiences.

“Is adventure tourism inherently risky and something tourists should agree to at their own peril? Yes, but there should be safety regulations and regular approval/review processes of commercial adventure tourism operations that aim to eliminate or reduce the risks, that are balanced with the need to attract and effectively cater for thrill seekers.

“I have no doubt that each time this happens the overall New Zealand tourism reputation takes a hit – particularly when it’s occurred under the management and care of a marketed tourism business and not the result of irresponsible behaviour on the part of the tourist. Sure accidents happen when people do things in the outdoors, but severe injury and death are not acceptable outcomes during the course of a paid or chaperoned tourism activity if it was avoidable.

“In the meantime, for the sake our visitors, we hope adventure tourism businesses are reminded that safety is priority at all times and it would be interesting to hear their opinions as to the best way forward to improve safety measures across the industry and for reputation management.”

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