Analysis of the adventure activities regime

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has completed a targeted review of the health and safety regulatory regime for adventure activities, looking at how it operates when activities take place in naturally-hazardous environments.

Following the Whakaari/White Island eruption on 9 December 2019, the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety directed MBIE to undertake a targeted review of the adventure activities regulatory regime.

The work considered whether weaknesses exist in the adventure activities regime when adventure activities take place in naturally-hazardous environments.

Findings from the targeted review were presented to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety in November 2020. Based on the findings, the Government announced that it planned to make improvements to the regime. MBIE undertook the second phase of work to develop proposals for change in more detail, targeted to areas identified in the review. A public consultation on possible changes to the regime was conducted in 2021

This work is separate from the Coroner investigation and WorkSafe NZ’s prosecutions into the Whakaari/White Island event which are examining the circumstances of the eruption and related deaths, and whether there are potential breaches of the law.

Summary of changes to the adventure activities regulatory regime

The Government announced the following changes to the adventure activity regulatory regime on 1 October 2022. The full press release is available here:

Government provides confidence to those seeking an adventure(external link) — Beehive.govt.nz

This summary provides more detailed information on the changes, what the changes mean for adventure activity operators, and the timeframes for implementation.

Changes focus on four areas

  1. Introducing specific requirements for how adventure activity operators must assess and manage natural hazard risks
  2. Strengthening requirements for operators to communicate risks to activity participants
  3. Stronger operator registration and notification requirements
  4. Reviewing and updating adventure activity safety guidance.

Further information on each area

These changes will involve amendments to the Health and Safety at Work (Adventure Activities) Regulations 2016, and updates to the Adventure Activities Safety Audit Standard and guidance materials published by WorkSafe.

Introducing specific requirements for how adventure activity operators must assess and manage natural hazard risks

WorkSafe will add a section to the Safety Audit Standard on assessing and managing the risks associated with natural hazards. They will also review the Standard more broadly.

WorkSafe will also publish guidance material on good practice management of natural hazard risks.

Strengthening requirements for operators to communicate risks to activity participants

A duty will be introduced in the Adventure Activities Regulations requiring operators to have processes in place to communicate the risks associated with an activity to prospective participants (lifting risk communication duties to the level of regulation and providing for a fine if operators do not meet this requirement).

Linked changes will be made to the Audit Standard and guidance materials to provide information on good practice for communicating risks and what information should be provided to participants.

Stronger operator registration and notification requirements

These changes are:

  • Requiring adventure activity operators to register directly with WorkSafe (rather than indirectly via their auditor) and some adjustments to the information they have to provide.
  • Expanding the circumstances under which WorkSafe can refuse, suspend, cancel or add conditions to operator registrations, where serious safety concerns arise.
  • Providing WorkSafe the power to temporarily suspend an operator’s registration while the operator is under investigation.
  • Introducing a list of sector-specific “notifiable incidents”, which operators must inform WorkSafe of when they occur. These will reflect near miss incidents from major risks in the sector (the details of what specific incidents will be notifiable will be consulted on in the coming months).

Reviewing and updating adventure activity safety guidance

WorkSafe will over the next two years review and add to the package of activity safety guidelines.

Some proposals consulted on that were not progressed

  • Introducing specific regulatory requirements for landowners/managers
  • Introducing a risk classification system.

Next steps

MBIE will release a consultation draft of the changes to regulations later this year. This will allow interested parties to comment on the regulations wording, and the remaining matters of detail like the types of incidents that will be notifiable and the amount of a fine for breaching the risk communication duty.

WorkSafe will in parallel begin reviewing the Safety Audit Standard and guidance materials.

We expect regulations will be enacted around May 2023 and implemented later next year. This will allow operators 3-4 months to adjust to new requirements before they take legal effect.

Findings from the targeted review

Read the targeted review of the adventure activities regulatory regime report [PDF, 697 KB]

The review found areas for improvement in the regime including:

  • increasing the regime’s focus on natural hazards
  • strengthening the regulatory leadership role of WorkSafe
  • improving the adventure activities audit process.

The targeted review noted there are also a number of system-level issues in the design of the adventure activities regulatory system requiring more consideration. These include that:

  • the regulatory definition of “adventure activity” is not sufficiently clear
  • the regime’s reliance on third party certification bodies may not be sustainable
  • third party certification may not be the most effective way to achieve regime objectives.

These system-level issues will be considered as part of a first principles review of the regulations beginning in 2026.

About the review

The targeted review of the adventure activities regulatory regime was conducted between August and December 2020 and considered whether weaknesses exist in the regime where adventure activities take place in naturally hazardous environments.

The review examined both regulatory settings and the roles and responsibilities of organisations involved in the implementation of the regime.

Specific questions examined by the review include:

  • To what extent do adventure activities in New Zealand experience risks from natural hazards? What activities face risks of catastrophic harm if natural hazards are not managed appropriately?
  • How does the adventure activities regulatory regime operate to manage risks where activities intersect with natural hazards? What are the roles and responsibilities of the organisations involved in the regime (WorkSafe, auditors and operators) to identify and manage these hazards? 
  • Is anything missing from the adventure activities regulatory regime that increases the chance of catastrophic events occurring when adventure activities operate on/near natural hazards? Are more specific roles or specific controls for the management of natural hazard risks needed?

The targeted review involved analysis of the regulations and their implementation, along with natural hazard analysis. It also involved engagement with key stakeholders involved in implementing the regime.

The adventure activities regulatory regime

Adventure activities are activities which are paid for, involve the participant being guided or taught, are designed to deliberately expose the participant to serious risk, and in which failure of the provider’s management systems is likely to result in serious risk to the participant’s health and safety; and, in which the participant is deliberately exposed to dangerous terrain or waters.

Adventure activity operators must obtain a safety audit by an accredited safety auditor and be registered by WorkSafe as an adventure activities operator in order to offer their activities.

The health and safety regulatory regime for adventure activities is relatively new, introduced in 2011 and came fully into force in November 2014, following concerns over the management of risk in the adventure tourism sector.

Reviews across Government

The Minister of Local Government is leading the group of Ministers responsible for matters relating to the economic and social recovery following the Whakaari/White Island eruption. The Minister of Local Government is also the territorial authority for Whakaari/White Island under the Local Government Act.

MBIE is leading an independent review of whether WorkSafe has carried out its obligations appropriately in relation to Whakaari/White Island.

Read more about the independent review

Other projects taking place across government in response to the Whakaari/White Island eruption include:

  • Department of Internal Affairs: will be in future working collaboratively with other agencies regarding future access to Whakaari/White Island
  • WorkSafe NZ: reviewing how it administers the adventure activities regime and making process improvements as required
  • Department of Conservation: developing a framework for managing visitor risk from natural hazards in the conservation estate and online guidance around volcanic risk in Tongariro National Park.

Contact the team

If you have questions about the review, you can get in touch with the team at hswregs@mbie.govt.nz.

Last updated: 07 November 2022