Safety Gaps Found In Adventure Tourism Review

Emily Jordan died riverboarding in New Zealand

British tourist Emily Jordan drowned whilst riverboarding in 2008

Media outlets are reporting on the  long awaited release of New Zealand’s Adventure Tourism safety review. The review was instigated after the father of drowned river boarding tourist, Emily Jordan, wrote to John Key calling safety regulation in New Zealand “third world.”

The two main outcomes are that there are recommendations that adventure tourism Operators be registered (which stops short of a licensing system) and that  “most” be audited in order to remain on the register.

But even that is by no means a done deal because the report’s recommendations offer up a get-out-of- jail-card :-  a “quality mark” as an alternative to a full-blown and regulated registration scheme.

John Hartevelt wrote for Fairfax (emphasis ours):

A review of adventure tourism operators has found gaps in safety that risk more accidents and damage to New Zealand’s $3 billion adventure tourism industry.

The Government has announced it will set up a compulsory register and demand safety checks for operators to stay on the register…is no fundamental issue stopping operators from developing safety systems…

(the review) found there were gaps that allowed some to operate with less than acceptable safety standards. “While these gaps remain there is insufficient assurance that preventable accidents will not occur,” the review says.

“This situation could result in harm to individuals and their families and damage to New Zealand’s reputation as an international visitor destination.” Safety systems were “still developing” because the sector had grown quickly to a significant size.”

The report goes on to state that

The scheme should require “up-front and ongoing” external safety audits.

“This would go a considerable way towards providing assurance that activities are being managed safely,” the review said.

Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson said the Government had accepted the recommendation and a registration scheme would be set up. Most operators would become subject to safety audits once the scheme was in place…read the full report here

It may come as a surprise to some to hear that operators weren’t being subject to safety audits before the review took place. Perhaps if they had been a number of tragic deaths, including that of Emily Jordan, may have been avoided.

The Herald put a figure on the cost of auditing, which is risk weighted, that is going to come as a shock to many small operators. In our opinion this is likely to cause most operators to protest against the recommendations and put pressure on the government to adopt a quality mark for the industry:

The cost of an initial audit would depend on the risk. Medium risk would be $1000, and high risk would be $2200. The audits would be repeated periodically, and subsequent ones would be half the price of the initial audit.

There are no costings for repeating a failed audit and there are some recommendations that have not been reported on by the press.

The report made a number of recommendations to the Minister of Labour. Those included:

  • Note that the adventure and outdoor commercial sector has grown quickly to a significant size, is innovative and dynamic, and its safety management systems reflect that quick growth and are still developing
  • Note that the review found assurance and information gaps in the safety management framework that applies to the sectors.
  • Addressing assurance gaps –  Agree to introduce a registration scheme for the adventure and outdoor commercial sectors with a requirement for up-front and ongoing external safety audits of operators’ safety management provisions (to a level commensurate with the risk) and an obligation on operators to keep their registration up-to-date
  • Agree to partner with an industry-led entity to strengthen the safety management framework for the sectors
  • Agree to the development of a practice guide for the sector
  • Agree to an evaluation of the voluntary safety auditing schemes for adventure and outdoor commercial sector operations to ensure they are fit for purpose
  • Agree to investigate the development of a register of government-accredited adventure tourism-related safety auditing schemes
  • Note that agencies will clarify which government agency is responsible for which activities in the adventure and outdoor commercial sector
  • Note that the Department of Labour will ensure that when the review of the Machinery Act and Amusement Devices Regulations occurs, that it carefully considers the adequacy of the Act and Regulations for the adventure and outdoor commercial sectors
  • Agree to better inform operators about their current responsibilities
  • Agree to further work being undertaken to determine whether instructors and guides should be required to hold qualifications and work only within the scope of their qualifications for some activities
  • Addressing information gaps – Agree to work being undertaken to collect better and more consistent information on the sector and to improve its collation
  • Further worthwhile initiatives – Note that if the proposed registration scheme is not approved, the Department of Labour will undertake further work to consider the value of educating consumers to look for a safety mark from an accredited safety auditing scheme when selecting an adventure or outdoor commercial sector provider
  • Agree to further work being undertaken regarding a requirement for operators to have a satisfactory safety audit in order to receive any taxpayer-funded promotional benefits, (such as inclusion through i-Site stands, Tourism New Zealand)
  • Direct the Department of Labour to undertake further work with other agencies as applicable in order to consider the appropriateness of the following initiatives:
  • A. Expanding the rules-based approach taken under the Maritime Transport Act and the Civil Aviation Act for possible application to other adventure based activities
  • B. Linking ACC payments to evidence of audited safety management plans
  • C. Increasing the level of inspection under the HSE Act
  • Agree to investigate if New Zealand should be represented on the International Organisation for Standardisation’s TC 228 Working Group for Adventure Tourism*
  • Agree to the Department of Labour scoping the development of guidance on land owners’ and land managers’ safety-related responsibilities when they grant permission for adventure and outdoor commercial sector activities to operate on land that they own or manage
  • General – Note that Cabinet has approved the development of aviation rules for commercial adventure aviation and new maritime rules for commercial jet boating and rafting to improve the safety regulatory framework for these activities, and that this work is well advanced
  • Note that the proposed rules for adventure aviation activities and commercial jet boating and rafting being developed for the Minister of Transport will adequately address the current deficiencies in the safety regulatory framework applicable to those parts of the adventure and outdoor commercial sector
  • Agree to the Department of Labour undertaking further work on the funding and institutional arrangements to deliver the key recommendations in this paper, with a particular focus on the appropriateness of industry-government shared models
  • Note that the Department of Labour will assist, coordinate or initiate any further implementation issues arising from this report.

* The ISO TC 228 working group – exists to ensure the “Standardization of the terminology and specifications of the services offered by tourism service providers, including related activities, touristic destinations and the requirements of facilities and equipment used by them, to provide tourism buyers, providers and consumers with criteria for making informed decisions.”

53 countries participate in that group including Australia, Cuba, India, Germany Thailand and the UK. 17 other countries observe it. New Zealand, along with El Salavdor and Zimbabwe, is only an observer. Click here for a list of the TC 228 standards for tourism and related services.

How many of the recommendations will be acted upon remains to be seen but any deaths or serious injuries that occur in the meantime, and which can be attributed to not following these recommendations, will be on the heads of those who tarry.

Meanwhile, the family of Emily Jordan awaits the start of an inquest into her death.

In an interview with Scene, “The free voice of Queenstown”  Chris Jordan said he will push for an inquest into his daughter’s death to be held in the UK if one isn’t held in NZ. He said that he was disappointed to still be waiting to hear if one will be held and that the situation was “bizarre”.

Mr. Jordan wrote in a letter to Mr Key that he had spent 16 months investigating the way that extreme sports firms are regulated in New Zealand and was “appalled” at what he had found, he called for safety regulation of the industry, saying:

It is vital that more young people do not die in this way. It is a tragic, unnecessary waste and they leave many grieving people behind for whom life is forever changed. This situation is damaging New Zealand’s reputation worldwide...”

“The laws in place at the moment aren’t the right vehicle to be regulating this sort of activity and they are not being regulated in any case,” he said. “People are going to New Zealand and expecting that it will be regulated like a western country but that really isn’t the case.

There needs to be high quality and up-front checks on firms like this, but instead authorities only react when there is an incident.”

Adventure Tourism in New Zealand

See also:

NZ Facts and Stats, Adventure tourism and safety

UK families form group to push for tougher extreme sports standards in New Zealand – families call for licensing system in New Zealand.

Posts tagged Emily Jordan