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New Zealand leading the world in adventure tourism safety
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New Zealand leading the world in adventure tourism safety

New Zealand’s adventure tourism is world-renowned and now we have a world-leading safety regime to protect our tourists and the reputation of our adventure tourism here and abroad. WorkSafe NZ chief executive Gordon MacDonald explains.

Over the last three years we have seen the most comprehensive overhaul of the safety standards for adventure activities in this country's history – transforming what was previously a voluntary audit regime into a tougher regulatory system involving a rigorous safety audit and registration.

These vitally important changes follow a review of adventure safety in New Zealand which recommended key changes to build on and strengthen the existing legal requirements on operators to manage safety and risk. As well as Government, the transformation has also been driven by the industry itself through the strong support and commitment of the Tourism Industry Association New Zealand.

Best practice in priority activities – the Activity Safety Guidelines – have been written by the sector for the sector, pulling together activity experts on topics like caving, abseiling, heli-skiing, high wire and, canyoning, to reach consensus-based agreement on best practice, from within.

Three government agencies are charged with regulating the safety of adventure activities – due to the need for the right technical expertise and skills according to where the activity occurs. The Civil Aviation Authority is delegated for aviation adventure activity, Maritime New Zealand for water-based activities such as jet boating or rafting, and my agency WorkSafe NZ for all other adventure activities.

Our number one goal is to protect everyone who undertakes an adventure activity, but also to protect the international reputation of New Zealand’s tourism sector – which earns about $10 billion of exports annually.

New Zealand is competing with the rest of the world for the tourism dollar, and we need to be able to reassure visitors that adventure activities are as safe as they can be and operators have the systems in place to manage the risk around any adventure activity. Lives depend on this as do the livelihoods of hundreds of people in communities around the country who work in adventure tourism jobs or in the sectors that support tourism such as transport and hospitality.

Before the new regulatory regime, there was only a voluntary safety audit system for the adventure activities regulated by WorkSafe NZ.

Under the new regime, there are five audit providers, and 100 percent of adventure activity operators subject to the regulatory regime will be required to have passed a safety audit. To date 90 percent of these operators have been or are about to be audited so the industry is well on track to achieve the 1 November deadline for registration. Any that don’t meet the deadline are operating outside the law and will be subject to enforcement action.

In the adventure aviation sector, we are also leading the world in safety assurance through the introduction in 2012 of new and stronger standards that have put additional requirements on commercial operators, including certification and subjected them to audits and inspections like those conducted on other commercial aircraft operators.

More than 50 audits and spot checks have been undertaken by the Civil Aviation Authority of the 27 adventure aviation operators in New Zealand over the past 12 months.

For adventure activities such as jet-boating or rafting, regulated by Maritime New Zealand, safety audits take place every year to 18 months, and have been mandatory since the late 1990s. The safety regime has also been strengthened here - licensing for commercial jet boat drivers was introduced in August 2012.

Finally, I would like to emphasize there is no doubt New Zealand is leading the world in its approach to providing a comprehensive assurance regime for the provision of adventure activities. In many other countries, including Australia, Switzerland, Canada and the US, certification of adventure activity operators is not mandated by law.

Adventure activities in New Zealand will be fundamentally safer as the new regime makes them subject to a level of scrutiny, to international standards that are greater than ever before.


More information:

The SupportAdventure website


Last updated 5 November 2014


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On Monday 4 April 2016, the New Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) came into effect.

HSWA repeals the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, with immediate effect.

All references to the 1992 Act on this website and within our guidance will be progressively removed.