International Tourists Plead for Stiffer Rules in NZ’s Tourism Sector

Tom Sewell

Tom Sewell is sorely missed by everyone who knew him

Last month an inquest was held in Britain into the death of young rugby player Tom Sewell.

Five years ago Tom Sewell started his first day of a working holiday  in New Zeaalnd and was killed whilst riding a quad bike on a farm in Katikati, on the North Island.

It’s sad that it has taken this long for the coroner to reach a judgement about accidental death but when he did it was pretty damning and another nail in the coffin for NZ’s reputation for taking safety seriously.

There have been 37 deaths in quad bike accidents since 2008 and 3 since Boxing Day last year (source) Chief coroner Neil MacLean is said to be “frustrated by the large number of quad bike deaths around the country.”

We’ve blogged many times about the high numbers of deaths, serious injuries and near misses in New Zealand’s tourism industry,  the egregious lack of safety awareness and attitudes that can be best described as “she’ll be right”. Read posts tagged Adventure tourism or see our adventure tourism and safety Wiki for further details.

A report into the inquest by showed how both the NZ and UK coroners highlighted a serious lack of duty of care and health and safety awareness at the farm. What they found has wider implications for  workplace health and safety, and the whole of the tourism industry in New Zealand, especially working holiday providers.

“Mr Travers explained there were no written instructions and no crash helmets, which he said would indicate problems with health and safety.

At the first inquest into Tom’s death, held in New Zealand in November 2009, nine recommendations were made by the chief coroner, which Mr Travers has agreed to support following his findings.

Among the nine were recommendations for a clear written policy on the use of all-terrain vehicles and that helmets should be worn when driving these vehicles.

He added that when employees were working in orchards, there should be supervision and a nominated person responsible for the health and safety of workers.

In addition, visitors and potential employees should not be permitted to start work without a health and safety induction and a proper introduction to the site.

Tom’s father thinks it is clear that health and safety in New Zealand needs to be assessed…” read more here

The report went on to mention a number of tourist deaths in New Zealand, all of which we’ve covered in this blog in the past, saying

Tom’s death is just one of many tragedies involving Britons taking gap year visits to New Zealand.

Bradley Coker died in the Fox Glacier aviation disaster

Tom Donaldson
Tom Donaldson died on a work’s day out whilst sandboarding

Sarah Bond, killed in a quad bike accident

The mother of Sarah Bond spoke about New Zealand’s “she’ll be right” attitude,

What underpins all of this is the lack of safety and lack of care out there,” said her mother, Elizabeth Bond. “It feels like ‘accidents happen’ is their mantra.”

Enough is Enough

Now a group of 200 international families have decided enough is enough and are campaigning for a tightening up of New Zealand’s perceived lax safety standards. This is probably a continuation of the campaign that was started in 2010 by the families of British tourists  Emily Jordan, Sarah Bond and Tom Sewell .

Emily Jordan and Jonathan Armour

Emily Jordan and Jonathan Armour, Emily died in a riverboarding accident

Furthermore, the majority of the NZ public agree with them that something must be done because it’s not just international tourists that are suffering.

This article in the Herald was published days after Auckland man Clifford Brabet died on a team building exercise at the Treetops high ropes activity centre at Woodhill, Auckland.

There have also been other New Zealand deaths, not least the tragic deaths of student Catherine Peters, the 6 highschool students and a teacher who died in a canyoning exercise with the Sir Edmund Hilary Outdoor Centre and the Kiwis who were killed in the Fox Glacier plane crash (9 dead) and the Carterton hot air balloon disaster (11 dead)

Clifford Brabet

Clifford Brabet was killed this month when he fell from at high ropes activity park in Woodhill.

Catherine Peters died when her bungy rope wasn't tied off at the Ballance Bridge Swing in the Manawatu Gorge.

Catherine Peters died when her rope wasn’t tied off at the Ballance Bridge Swing in the Manawatu Gorge.

stiffer rules

The Herald ran an on-line survey

From an article in the NZ Herald we learn that Tom Sewell’s mother had contacted her former MP, Sir Humfrey Malins who had

“written to the NZ High Commissioner in London two years ago on the family’s behalf expressing concern – but had not received a response.

Linda said that silence was “very disappointing”. The family would now be writing to Key, asking him to adopt the UK Coroner’s safety recommendations.

The international letter-writing campaign to draw attention to New Zealand health and safety problems is spearheaded by two other British dads: Chris Coker, who lost his son Brad in the Fox Glacier plane crash, and Chris Jordan, who lost his daughter Emily Jordan in a riverboarding tragedy. Chris Coker has set up a website to warn people about the risks in New Zealand.

Brad would have turned 27 tomorrow. “I couldn’t go to work for nearly a year and now I go to work and see an empty chair,” he said. “Why is it my job as a grieving parent to fight the terrible injustice of my son’s death because it was preventable?”… more here

We wish them all the best with helping to improve safety in New Zealand, it’s not an easy task given the degree of under-regulation of safety in the country.

In the meantime and until such time as things have improved, if you, or a family member, is planning an adventure tourism or working holiday in New Zealand perhaps you should consider somewhere with higher standards and where safety is regulated properly.

You may also be interested in

NZ workplace safety a ‘national disgrace’ – consultant (NZ Herald Jan 2013) “New Zealand’s health and safety record has been labelled as ‘woeful’ and a ‘national disgrace’ by a consultant with two decades’ experience in the sector…Robyn Levinge says New Zealand has never prioritised health and safety like it has with road safety, domestic violence and drink driving…”As a country, we have simply not given health and safety the priority it deserves at any level…”

One Way Ticket  (60 minutes TV,  Oct 2012) “Every year, thousands of young Australians fly off for a gap year adventure. Their travels take them all over the world, often to poor and dangerous places that make their mums and dads fret…But the world capital of adventure tourism can be a deadly place as Glenn (Bourke) and eight others so tragically discovered…”

New Zealand Adrenaline Nation (ABC News, Oct 2012)”not everyone walks away from an adventure tourism experience in New Zealand. Over the past eight years at least 50 visitors have died when things went dreadfully wrong. Many more have suffered crippling injuries…In a forensic examination of New Zealand’s adventure tourism industry and safety regime, correspondent Dominique Schwartz exposes significant flaws in regulation and safety awareness. She investigates the activities of a prominent ballooning operator with a troubling track record and hears evidence that NZ’s taxpayer-funded accident compensation scheme (ACC) may be enabling poor practice.”

Man falls to his death whilst participating in team building fund day in Woodhill (NZ Police, March 2013)”A 57-year-old man fell to his death yesterday while attending a team building fun day at Treetops Adventures, Woodhill, Auckland. A Doctor and an Advanced Paramedic were participants on the course nearby and rushed to assist the man. He died at the scene as a result of his injuries. OSH attended the scene and are working closely with Treetop Adventures to investigate how the the fatality occurred.” The man was later named as Clifford Brabet. People at the park voiced concerns about safety and overcrowding before the fall.

“No Accountability in New Zealand” – The Fox Glacier Aviation Disaster  (August 2012)

How Widespread Is Cannabis Use in NZ’s Adventure Tourism Industry – The Carterton Hot Air Ballooning Tragedy   (May 2012)

Harness Failure Leaves Woman Dangling At Nevis Bungy Swing  (May 2012)

UK Families Form Group To Push For Tougher Extreme Sport Standards In New Zealand  (Jan 2010)

Emily Jordan’s Father Writes To John Key: Safety Regulations Are “Third World” (Sept 2009)

Carterton Ballooning Tragedy, Urgent Checks Follow Air Worthiness Concerns (Feb 2012)

Thrillseekers Adventure Ltd Fined For Bungy Fall (May 2011)

Tom Donaldson Inquest – Coroners Says ‘Warn Tourists’ (Nov 2010)

Wellington Reverse Bungy Closed Amid Safety Fears (Dec 2010)

Tourists Seriously Injured In Bay Of Islands Boat Incidents (April 2011)

Alistair McWhannell Guilty Of Manslaughter In Swing Bridge Death (June 2010)

Fox Glacier Plane Crash, Nine Dead Including Four Tourists (Sept 2010)

Tourists Injured in Queenstown Jet Boat Crash, Another Died Swimming With Dolphins (Nov 2010)

Australian Tourist Seriously Injured By Dophin Boat (Dec 2010)

Tourists seriously injured in collision between Outward Bound cutter and a Dolphin Watch Ecotours (Feb 2011)

Adventure Tourism Safety – Kiwis Have Their Say (May 2011)

Australian Tourist Injured In Bungy Accident, Another Has Collapsed Lung – Updated (May 2010)

Another Tourist Dies in New Zealand – Trainee Doctor Tom Donaldson killed at sand dunes (Feb 2009)

NZ guiding industry failing to manage risks properly (Jan 2010)

Another Adventure tourism death results in prosecution – Tor Prestmo (Dec 2009)

14 thoughts on “International Tourists Plead for Stiffer Rules in NZ’s Tourism Sector

    Full letter from Chris Coker to Prime Minister John Key

    “Nothing you can do will bring back my son Bradley, who was killed in the prime of his life whilst enjoying a holiday in your country, and no amount of compensation could make up for his death.

    “Bradley’s death was completely avoidable and needless. The circumstances that led to his death are a shocking catalogue of behaviour that would be regarded as negligent in every civilised country in the world. This accident is, tragically, the latest in many similar events in your country and amply demonstrates the lack of proper regulation and control and the need for urgent and fundamental reform in the way this kind of activity in New Zealand is monitored, controlled and regulated.

    “I urge you to act in the best interests of the thousands of young people who come to New Zealand every year to enjoy what you have to offer in such a beautiful country. Until you do act, the beauty of your country will continue to disguise a regulatory and legal culture that makes the public and visitors highly vulnerable and puts their lives in significant danger.

    “When an accident happens in New Zealand, the law is not there to support you. There is not a single parent anywhere in the world who would look at the case of the death of our son and not find our treatment at the hands of the authorities and the legal system derisory.

    “Until action is taken to ensure the regulation, inspection and control of adventure sports, particularly involving aircraft, is radically tightened, I feel it my duty to advise people thinking of visiting New Zealand for adventure sport to think twice.

    “My whole family owes a duty to other families around the world to warn them of these dangers. I do not wish another parent to have my experience of a knock on the door at 5am telling you that your beloved son is dead.

    “The whole world appreciates the focus that has been required of your Government to recover from the terrible events at Christchurch.

    “But the year before the earthquake – in June 2010 – a national review in your country of the adventure tourism industry found that ‘regulatory safety standards applicable to commercial adventure aviation were designed for recreational (non-commercial) activity and did not provide sufficient assurance that commercial activities involving inherent risk are safely managed’. And yet there was no urgency on the part of the Government to effect the radical changes in regulation, monitoring and control that would have saved the lives of my son and his fellow tourists.

    “A new civil aviation rule, effective from 1st May 2012, requires skydiving and other adventure aviation operators to hold a CAA Operator Certificate. This does not do anything to strengthen monitoring and control of the regulations, which might have saved Bradley’s life. Every day that radical improvements in the enforcement of safety in New Zealand are delayed puts the lives of more tourists at very great risk.”


    Call for CAA shake-up

    Karen Bourke, whose son died in the crash, said the CAA needs a shake-up. She said she would like to see New Zealand’s no-blame system changed and a negligence law brought in. “People have to be accountable, and I don’t see that in New Zealand.”

    Chris Coker, the father of another who died, told Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report programme the system in New Zealand is weighted against the victim.

    “When companies fail in their duty to protect the public the law in New Zealand does not allow the injured party to hold them to account.”

  3. How can I send you the latest press release from the families of those who died in the Fox Glacier air crash incident? It was released earlier today in response to the coroner’s verdict.

  4. I echo every word of Linda Sewell. My daughter was on a quad bike as part of a convoy on a sedate tour of the countryside travelling at less than five miles an hour. There was a guide at the back and front of the convoy. The group had around 20 minutes orientation and training (on flat land) in how to use the machines. Unfortunately when Sarah lost control of the quad bike she was on a rutted path with a 30 meter drop! Health and safety had visited the site previously after an earlier incident but apparently were not aware of the existence of this track! I realise this is not the forum to relate the whole tragic story but just wanted to illustrate the enormity of this problem that has so far been swept under the carpet.

    • Thank you for leaving your message Elizabeth, our heartfelt condolences to you for the loss of your daughter Sarah.

      Hopefully raising awareness of this problem will effect change in this industry and the way it is regulated, for the benefit of all concerned.

  5. When my son went to NZ he was denied a very basic human right – to be safe. He died on his first day in the workplace. His employers were clearly negligent and he died. No punitive action was taken against them. We have no idea if Coroner’s recommendations have been enforced or if any official from the DoL has visited the farm to ensure safety has improved. We are sceptical. Five years on our lives are considerably poorer without our vibrant boy, and actually no lessons have been learned and other families are suffering like us.

    • Our deepest condolences for the loss of your son, Linda.

      We understand there is a lack of regulation of this sector in New Zealand with too few inspectors to go around, having said that surely there should have been a investigation after a fatality and consideration given to bringing a prosecution against the farm? perhaps not.

      Quad bike deaths have continued in New Zealand (including children on farms) but the government is very reluctant to legislate for tougher safety standards, going no further than safety guidelines they can barely regulate they regulations they already have. We are hoping that something may come out of the Northland inquiry.

      Inquests into a string of quad bike fatalities have begun in Whangarei today.

      Northland coroner Brandt Shortland said the inquest into Northland farmer John Roderick McInnes, also known as Jack, was the first of five inquests involving quad bikes he would hear over the next six weeks – including a cluster of three deaths within eight weeks in Northland.

      During a two-day inquest in Auckland next month Mr Shortland would hear from a number of experts, including academics, government representatives, safety officials and those in the rural sector.

      Last year the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment launched a safety campaign after several quad-bike deaths across the country.

      Every year, on average, 850 people are injured, on farms, riding quad bikes, with five deaths.

      However, the number of annual deaths has risen sharply in recent years, prompting the ministry to release several safety guidelines.

  6. Why is a story about an accident at work being mentioned in the same breath as tourism? It was an accident in the workplace.

    And reader, have you been to NZ? The culture you describe is not the culture I have experienced.

    • Because, believe it or not, places where tourism businesses are operated are workplaces – that includes hot air balloons, airplanes, farms and bungee platforms.

      Operators are employers and have a duty to both their employees, the people who pay to participate in the activity and anyone who may be affected by that activity. Is this a hard concept for you to grasp? it is commonplace in other developed countries.

      Have you been outside of New Zealand and seen the culture where tourism activities are properly regulated?

  7. Thank you for your input here Phil.

    We should bear in mind that all of the activities outlined here in this article are not unique to New Zealand and other countries offer them too, those other countries also have better regulation than New Zealand and lower accident/fatality rates.

    Remember that many of the fatal ‘accidents’ in this industry occur because of operator negligence (e.g. forgetting to tie off a swing rope) not having simple safety equipment (e.g. the correct life jacket, or a rescue rope) errors of judgement, lack of training and poor appreciation of the risks involved.

    These are not complicated, or expensive, issues and it doesn’t take much effort to rectify them. Why then is there all the fuss about ‘safety detracting from the experience’

    The provision of basic safety procedures such as competent advisers, risk assessments written safety policies, safe systems of work, appropriate safety equipment (PPE) etc. can hardly be considered to be “excessive” regulation. Those are the foundations of good practice yet they seem to be lacking in so many workplaces and adventure tourism activities in New Zealand.

    Putting the onus on the business to take all reasonably practicable steps to manage safety effectively cannot by any stretch of the imagination be considered excessive.

    None of these people died doing volunteer activities, they were all paying customers of established businesses, businesses that had serious safety failings. The adventure tourism industry contributes 4 billion dollars to the NZ economy every year but despite that it is under-regulated.

    Does wearing a seat belt and checking your tyre pressures make driving any the less enjoyable or more expensive? Why should paying to jump off a bridge, or jet around on a lake, be any less safe. Shouldn’t the paying punter expect the operator to take as much care as is reasonably practicable?

    • After reading your reply I don’t think you understood my point. My fault because I did not explain it well enough. I am concerned over the excessively intrusive and negative effects that will result from badly constructed law.

      If you have not tried to carry out activities yourself it is difficult to appreciate it. However the key point here is that law designed to regulate commercial activities needs to be constructed very carefully otherwise it will have many unforeseen and negative effects.

      I specifically mentioned volunteer activities. In the UK these have become more difficult to carry out and now carry a degree of personal risk.

      I will give a specific example. There are others which have effectively destroyed the lives of competent and dedicated volunteers.

      I have organised several international scouting expeditions each involving several activities that carried an element of risk. The rules and regulations of the Scouting organisation are mainly driven by the Law and as a secondary effect the insurance companies. I read the guidelines provided by the scouting organisation very carefully and in some case reread them up to seven times to ensure I understood what was being required. The conclusion I came to was that in reality the regulations were, within reason, not possible to follow perfectly by any human being. Having established this I then approached the insurance experts and legal advisers in the scouting organisation and through the complexity of the law they could not advise me if I would or would not be covered by indemnity insurance in the event that I had not been able to demonstrate perfect adherence to the regulations. Consequentially I had to take knowingly the risk of being sued personally through unintentional non adherence to some of the myriad of rules and regulations. To deal with this reality effectively I had to consider myself and my capabilities very carefully also the people involved, their competence and personalities and relate this to the risks. I made a good call as there were no incidents. However I will not do this again as the personal risk is to high. An incident could have destroyed my life and family. The majority of leaders are blissfully unaware of the situation they are putting themselves and their dependents in. I have raised these points with the Scouting organisation and do no longer do this kind of activity because of the risk of being personally sued, and the effect that the negative publicity can have on ones life and family.

      The long term effect of the current Law in the UK is to make volunteer lead activities and opportunities excessively time consuming (even for persons expert in the activities) and to expose competent and giving persons to a potential financial and social disaster. This will tend to transfer the activities away from volunteers who are engaged primarily to provide a platform for self development of the young people and into a more commercial environment whose primary purpose is to make money. In contrast the Swedish approach (and it must be remembered that the Swedes have a strong social and support ethic) has not had this effect. There is a significant difference in the structure of the law which influences this. Primarily the suing culture prevalent in UK & USA does not exist there.

      Different activities really require a different regulation approach. For example activities such as bungee jumping or abseiling or sitting in a jet boat which require little participator skill and 100% management of the participant by the organisor require a different approach to activities where a level of skill are needed. e.g quad bike riding or kayaking.

      Many answers to the appropriate law are out there to be copied and used. They are not to be found in any one country. It requires some fairly astute decision making to get it right and avoid knee jerk reaction to press pressure and some very regrettable and probably even more regrettable, avoidable, specific incidents.

  8. Introducing excessive regulation and rules is a double edged sword. If this is done there are consequences which result. Mainly it is reduced opportunity to do anything that has an element of danger. I speak from experience having volunteered for many years as a qualified kayak coach and Scout leader. I have seen many many positive life changing experiences with the children I have worked with. However the inherent danger of some activities is not recognised and the volunteer is placed in a very uncomfortable legal position. Consequentially I do not do any of these activities now in the UK. Note that in the UK approximately 5 kayaking fatalities occur each year. The main reason for these deaths is in few cases a bad assessment of the danger by an experienced paddeler but most are due to inexperience and the lack of a coach to train the persons involved, they are mostly very avoidable deaths that people like myself could if involved could prevent. My situation is far from unique.

    The excessive rules regulations and law of the UK that is killing opportunity for real experiences of self reliance has lead me in part to embark on emigration to NZ. We need to (please) think carefully about the consequences before we embark on a media and headline driven campaign. People are attracted to NZ in favour of other countries by the opportunity to undertake activities which are known to have an element of risk. The real answer to improving safety and maintaining the element of excitement needs some real thought from people within the industry and a careful look at where other countries have made mistakes. Not shooting from the hip at media headlines. I am able and willing to make a contribution here.

    Phil Davies.

  9. This is a good piece. One cultural trait that was truly difficult for us to tolerate was the willingness to take risks with human lives. You get this impression that they think they have a hundred lives to live or simply are eager to “move on from this one”! I came to the conclusion that it was almost self-destructive. Surely, their excruciating existence on that island, that poverty trap, with its terrible, expensive housing, no opportunities, drinking and drug culture, and everything that is wrong there, leads to the attitude that “anything is better than this”, and the need to produce endorphins by doing overly risky things.

    A Kiwi once quoted me something along the lines of, “I Will Not Die an Unlived Life”. But how is testing the fates like that “living”? It isn’t, to me. “Living” is enjoying daily existence in a land that offers both comfort and culture. We did not find that in New Zealand..

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