18 Dec 2020

Tourism operators voice concern about bureaucracy post-industry review

7:04 pm on 18 December 2020

Tourism operators are worried they will be bogged down by bureaucracy following a review of adventure activities near natural hazards.

Whakaari / White Island in the hours after the eruption.

The review was triggered by the Whakaari eruption in December 2019 (file image). Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Today, the first findings from the review - triggered by the Whakaari eruption - were revealed.

WorkSafe has come under increased scrutiny for not providing enough oversight of the sector.

Adventure Consultants chief executive Guy Cotter did not want to see safety become more of a box ticking exercise that was more focused on punishing companies than protecting people.

He was worried about WorkSafe playing a larger regulating role.

"Then we get more people who are not familiar with the area that they're auditing and the only way they can do that is by having more boxes to tick. That doesn't lead to an increased level of safety, that just is more of a burden on the operator," Cotter said.

Totally Tourism offers rafting, heli-ski tours, boat cruises and scenic flights around Queenstown, Milford Sound, Aoraki Mt Cook and the West Coast.

Its director, Mark Quickfall, said tourism operators were overseen by a range of regulatory bodies, including Civil Aviation and Maritime New Zealand.

"Those regulatory bodies have a specific expertise and abilities in those areas so I'd be nervous to see that dumbed down. But the best model to me is to have a regulator, but also have the industry bodies and the operators working together. There's no question the operators have the greatest incentive to make sure everyone stays safe."

Increasing on-site audits from once every three years, spot checks, engaging more sector experts, and ensuring WorkSafe prioritises the industry are some of the possible changes to be discussed following the review.

Quickfall welcomed the latest review, but said whatever changes came out of it needed to be targeted and achievable.

"You don't want to swamp operators in administration bureaucracy to the point where they're very compliant but they're not safe because everyone does have to get out and operate each day.

"Probably better to make sure the systems and processes are correct than overloading them with unnecessary bureaucracy."

Adrift Tongariro Guides director Stewart Barclay said the sector was on the whole doing an excellent job with safety, but they could always improve.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Adrift Tongariro Guides director Stewart Barclay says his company faces strict regulations and auditing to run guided walks on Tongariro in winter and summer (file image). Photo: Unsplash / Emily Woolerton

One area he thought should be looked at was who was subject to safety regulation and who was not.

His company faces strict regulations and auditing to run guided walks on Tongariro in winter and summer, but that would not be the case if they cut their winter trips.

"In summer, you often get for example a school teacher guiding a school party up the mountain who have no safety systems for mountains at all. And I think that needs to be looked at," Barclay said.

Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts said the review was not looking to impose new rules or tighten existing ones.

Instead, it was ensuring WorkSafe was not taking its eye off the ball and was providing proper oversight so other organisations including his own were not picking up the slack, he said.

"I mean there was an example in the report of how little attention WorkSafe was paying in the fact that their authorisation of certifying bodies lapsed for 15 months and the audits carried out for those 15 months had to be subsequently reconfirmed," Roberts said.

"I think that's just an indication of how little attention WorkSafe was paying."

WorkSafe has laid criminal charges against 13 parties in relation to the Whakaari eruption.

WorkSafe to be reviewed

Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood todya confirmed WorkSafe would undergo an independent review to assess if its response to the eruption was adequate and appropriate, and if there were further steps it should have taken.

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Minister of workplace relations and safety, Michael Wood. Photo: Dom Thomas

He would not comment on whether the regulator could face charges, but said he understood why particularly impacted families wanted answers and accountability.

"I think the confidence we can give families is that WorkSafe have behaved without any fear or favour.

"We've had 13 sets of charges laid across both private and public sector entities, and now the government is working to ensure that we do have assurance about WorkSafe's role as well so we're looking at every aspect of the events leading up to the tragedy."

He wanted to assure operators they wouldn't be swamped with more paperwork, but said people needed to feel safe to try the activities.

Consultation on how to further improve safety is set to begin next year.

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