Govt committed to improving safety in wake of Whakaari White Island tragedy

Workplace Relations and Safety

The Government will look to strengthen regulatory oversight and audit processes relating to the management of natural hazard risks following a review of the adventure tourism activities identified improvements could be made to improve safety.

The Government has released today the first stage of the targeted review of the adventure activities regulations and the terms of reference into an independent review of WorkSafe’s operations in relation to activities on Whakaari White Island, Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood announced today.

Key findings of the adventure activities regulations review include:

  • The adventure activities regulatory regime has improved safety. From 2004 to 2009 there were 31 deaths under activities that would be likely regulated today. Since 2014, when the adventure regime came fully into force, there were eight deaths in these regulated adventure activities, excluding the Whakaari victims. This was during a decade where the tourism sector grew by 55 per cent.
  • Nearly all adventure activities involve natural hazard risks to a greater or lesser extent. The regime could be strengthened to help operators better identify and manage natural hazard risks, through changes to the safety audit standard and the certification scheme.
  • The long-term sustainability of the certification scheme will need to be carefully considered.
  • WorkSafe prioritised other sectors with high work-related harm over adventure activities, and should take a greater leadership role in the adventure activities sector.                                                                         

Michael Wood said the Government is committed to strengthening safety regulations in the wake of the Whakaari White Island tragedy.

“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.

“Post-eruption, WorkSafe evaluated its own role in the regime and is making changes to ensure that it’s administering the adventure activities regime effectively. These include improving support for registration and compliance, improving operational systems, and developing a stakeholder engagement strategy.

“I am also announcing today the terms of reference of the independent review into the way in which WorkSafe performed its regulatory functions in relation to Whakaari White Island.                                                                       

“The review will assess the adequacy and appropriateness of WorkSafe’s actions in relation to Whakaari White Island and whether further steps should have been taken. It will also identify whether any changes to WorkSafe’s systems, processes and practices are necessary or desirable.

“MBIE has appointed David Laurenson QC to undertake the review - I expect to receive the review in May,” Michael Wood said.

Targeted review of the adventure activities regulatory regime and terms of reference to the independent review of WorkSafe are attached.

It will cover a five-year period, from November 2014, when the adventure activity regulations were fully in place, to 9 December 2019, the day of the eruption.

MBIE has appointed David Laurenson QC to conduct the independent review. David Laurenson has more than 30 years’ experience as a litigation lawyer. He was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 2014 and has appeared in a wide range of civil, commercial and criminal cases.