NZ government orders WorkSafe review after White Island tragedy

Plans to strengthen agency's regulatory oversight

NZ government orders WorkSafe review after White Island tragedy

New Zealand’s government has announced a review of WorkSafe in a bid to strengthen its powers over the adventure industry following the White Island disaster.

Workplace relations and safety minister Michael Wood has released the first stage of the targeted review of the adventure activities regulations.

He said: “After the terrible event on Whakaari, the Government launched a targeted review of the adventure activities health and safety regime.

“The review shows that the adventure activities regulatory regime is performing reasonably well, but has identified areas which could be strengthened.

“We’re committed to consulting on the report’s findings to improve safety standards in the first half of 2021 and making the appropriate changes afterwards.”

The review found that from 2004 to 2009 there were 31 deaths under activities that would likely be regulated today.

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Since WorkSafe’s adventure regime came into force in 2014, there have been eight deaths, excluding those who lost their lives on the White Island.

The review recommended the strengthening of the regime in helping operators to better identify and assess natural hazard risks.

Changes to the safety audit standard and the certification scheme were advised, as well as WorkSafe taking a greater leadership role in the adventure activities sector.

After last year’s eruption, which killed 22 people and injured a further 25, WorkSafe evaluated its own role as a safety regulator.

It implemented changes, including registration and compliance, improving operational systems, and developing a stakeholder engagement strategy.

Read more: WorkSafe NZ charges 13 parties following eruption

The government’s review will assess the adequacy of WorkSafe’s action prior to the eruption and whether further steps should’ve been taken.

David Laurenson QC has been appointed to undertake the review and the results are expected in May.

Unions have welcomed the review but warned that strengthening WorkSafe’s regulation would take more resources, such as more labour inspectors on the ground.

CTU President Richard Wagstaff told HRD: “We support WorkSafe showing more leadership across all workplaces, including the adventure activities sector.

“It would be completely unacceptable for WorkSafe to take resourcing away from one area, specifically sectors with high work related harm, in order to put the appropriate level of resourcing into adventure activities.

"We need workplaces to be safer so that working Kiwis know they’ll be able to return home safe at the end of their work day. WorkSafe is an important part of the equation in ensuring safe workplaces.”

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