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Govt Responds To Independent Review Into WorkSafe

Hon Michael Wood

Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety

The Government has clear expectations that WorkSafe must action the recommendations of the independent review into the regulator to improve its management of adventure activities following the tragedy at Whakaari White Island, Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood says.

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) today released the independent review by David Laurenson QC. It was commissioned after the Government asked MBIE to provide advice on whether WorkSafe carried out its obligations appropriately in relation to Whakaari White Island. The review considered WorkSafe’s actions in relation to Whakaari White Island in the period before the eruption.

“The Whakaari White Island eruption was a devastating tragedy where 22 people died and more were injured - as a Government we committed to learning the lessons to help prevent similar incidents,” Michael Wood said.

“The review found that WorkSafe fell short of good practice in its regulation of activities on Whakaari White Island over the 2014-19 period. The review says that improvements are needed in WorkSafe’s management of the adventure activities system.

“The review makes clear recommendations and my expectation is they will be actioned by July next year and have asked for their plan to complete this work by the end of the month. I have also asked WorkSafe to consider the review’s lessons and how these might apply more broadly to other areas of their work to ensure they do not have the same issues.

“There is also wider work underway on improving the adventure activities regime in New Zealand to raise safety standards. It’s important we provide safe experiences for New Zealanders and international visitors once our borders reopen.

A consultation on the adventure activities regime is currently open and I encourage everyone to have their say on the proposed improvements to health and safety in the sector.

“If we strengthen the adventure activities regulations and improve WorkSafe processes, we can reduce the risk of terrible events like the Whakaari White Island eruption happening again,” Michael Wood said.

The independent review is available here.

Notes for editors

  • WorkSafe is currently prosecuting 13 parties for failing to meet health and safety duties associated with activities on Whakaari White Island. These prosecutions are independent of the adventure activities regulatory regime changes.
  • A consultation is currently underway on change proposals for the adventure activities regulatory regime. It closes at 5.00pm 5 November 2021.
  • The Police are conducting an investigation into the Whakaari White Island event on behalf of the Coroner. The Coronial inquest will take place once WorkSafe’s prosecutions are complete.
  • MBIE through Police’s Liaison Function has kept victims and victims’ families informed throughout the review process.

The recommendations of the independent review include:

  • WorkSafe should recognise activities carried out on Whakaari White Island as its own adventure activity (rather than as part of trekking/mountaineering activities)
  • WorkSafe should identify the appropriate experience and qualifications required to carry out an audit of these activities – in particular, the expertise to assess whether operators are using good practice to manage the risks of people being close to a live volcano
  • WorkSafe, or an appropriate industry body, should identify individuals or organisations with appropriate experience and qualifications, and ensure they are available to be engaged as a technical expert when required.
  • WorkSafe should implement processes to ensure that when they are informed about an audit being planned for activities on Whakaari White Island, auditors are told to use an appropriate technical expert and are provided the details of the technical experts available.
  • WorkSafe, in partnership with the identified technical experts, should consider whether it should develop safety guidelines for activities on Whakaari White Island.

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