Tour operator to pay nearly $200,000 after worker falls in boat hatch

A Queenstown tour operator has been fined and ordered to pay $35,000 to a seriously injured former employee on one of its boats.

Lake Wakatipu.
Photo: Michal Klajban, Wikimedia Commons

Southern Discoveries pleaded guilty to a charge under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2015 of putting a person at risk of death or serious injury.

The Queenstown District Court ordered Southern Discoveries to pay a $160,000 fine, costs, and $35,000 in damages for emotional harm and consequential loss to the employee.

On February 27 last year, the employee was cleaning the main salon of the passenger ship, Queenstown spirit – which organizes scenic cruises on Lake Wakatipu between St Omer Wharf and Mt Nicholas Farm.

The worker backed up and fell more than two meters through an open hatch, landing on his back. The hatch had been left open by a colleague the previous night.

An investigation by Maritime New Zealand revealed a series of failures that led to the incident.

The hatches were identified as hazards in the Southern Discoveries register, and initial training was in place regarding their safe use.

However, its employees working at the Mt Nicholas farm have only received a health and safety orientation for the farm, not Queenstown spirit.

Orange safety cones were only used to signal that hatches were open when contractors were working on board.

The employee was not aware or informed by his colleagues that the hatch was open.

Southern Discoveries has since changed its practices to address the issues raised.

Hatches had to be securely closed when not in use and procedures had to be in place to manage the risk when they were open, including the use of physical barriers and effective communication.

Maritime NZ Southern Compliance Manager Domonic Venz said the risk of falling from height through open hatches was a well-known issue on ships.

“We encourage all companies to proactively protect their workers and passengers from harm so they return home unscathed,” Venz said.

“This is a stark example of New Zealand employers’ responsibility to provide good on-the-job training and safe working practices so that their employees can work safely in any part of the business. .”

The incident had serious consequences for the employee and many steps could have been taken by Southern Discoveries to prevent the damage, he said.