Adventure Tourism Industry Safety

The death of 6 high schools students and their teacher on an outward bound course resulted in the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoors Centre being ordered to pay a $40,000 fine and $440,000 in reparations.

The tragic deaths stunned the nation when the school party drowned in a rapidly flooding gorge after warnings of heavy rain weren’t acted upon.

Following the court case the Department of Labour urged the adventure tourism industry to look critically at its health and safety systems in light of the Mangatepopo canyon trekking tragedy. A lot should’ve been learned, but has it?

A lot has already been written about the tragedy on the net so I won’t go over it again, I’ll just point interested readers towards an excellent thread by Steve Howe on Backpacker blogs, from which the following snippet was taken

“We Americans and our media tend to point fingers hard and fast after adventure fatalities, but Kiwis apparently follow the opposite philosophy to an almost surreal extreme. The prevailing New Zealand attitude seems to be that adventure requires risk, adventurers shouldn’t be coddled, the OPC is very professional, and no one could have predicted what happened. And I’d like to believe that, but it just doesn’t wash.

We’re not talking about adventure or adventurers here, we’re talking about high school students contracted to a commercial guide service for adventure training. When you combine risky pursuits, young guides, novice clients, and business volume, the standards have to be higher than ‘everyone knew the risk’ simply because everyone doesn’t. And that’s particularly true of canyoneering, which combines fun but risky activities like rappels, pool jumps, and whitewater swimming with sexy scenery and aerobic ease – the perfect combination for marketable adventure.

But canyons are also very committing. IMHO, slick pouroffs, whitewater currents, undercut boulders, logjams, rockfalls, flash floods, and difficulty of retreat make them generally unsuited to volume guiding or team-building exercises. And the New Zealand version of ‘canyoning’ differs greatly from American-style ‘canyoneering.’ Canyoning often involves precision pool leaps from high cliffs, or necky whitewater swims above the brink of waterfalls, risks that American outfitters would never incorporate into their operating plan.

I’m a firm believer that sudden accidents rarely happen suddenly. With a little forethought and a few case histories under your belt, you can often see accident situations setting up hours, days, even weeks in advance. I’m not interested in doing a long distance Bill Frist/Terry Schiavo diagnosis here. Lessons will indeed be learned from the investigations now underway. But I suspect those lessons were already in plentiful supply. And as evidence, I offer the following recent canyoneering incidents, each with a brief outline, news links, and perhaps a few details that never made it into the media. The similarities are obvious. The gist? Hike safe mate”
Read on

If all else fails I guess there’s always the ‘New Zealand Life Back Promise’ to fall back on?