Why does my auditor keep recommending I engage with an external technical advisor?
Here’s the definition straight out of the Safety Audit Standard for Adventure Activities:
Technical adviser: Person or group of people that has professional credentials such as a high-level, nationally recognised qualification, or extensive knowledge, skills and experience to assist an operator with various technical tasks, including advising and reviewing the policies, procedures and practices relating to an activity.
An operator’s technical adviser(s) may be contracted by, or closely connected to the operator. The credentials may be achieved by combining those of two or more people, who may be staff members.
Technical advisers are mentioned several times in the Safety Audit Standard for Adventure Activities: Sections 4.2, 5.1, 10.2 & 10.3, so they must be quite important. They are. In previous articles the value of having staff with nationally recognised qualifications has often been brought up. Qualifications show that your staff have been independently assessed, that they are current with wider industry practices, etc.
What about the value of using good technical advisers?
Consider this: Jeremy has been running a quadbike operation on his farm for the last 20 years. He’s carefully groomed the track, built up berms and invested in a couple of side x sides recently. He’ll be the first to admit that he doesn’t like the paperwork side of things and honestly doesn’t understand a lot of the bureaucracy involved. During audits Jeremy explains that he was involved in establishing the initial ATV ASG in 2013 and surely meets the definition of a technical adviser. Jeremy is right, he does.
He goes on to explain that nothing has changed so why should his SMS? He still runs the trips the same way he always has and hasn’t had any incidents/ Why should he involve anyone else in his risk and hazard management or internal SMS review?
Not too far away is another quadbike operator, Jane. Jane was also involved in creating the ASG and put in some work when it was reviewed. Jane also doesn’t enjoy the paperwork aspect so every year Jane rings up a couple of other operators to see how they’re getting on, what they’ve noticed and if they’ve had any incidents. They email each other any interesting trip reports and incidents and discuss possible issues, including any new risks they’ve spotted. One operator mentions that he noticed that when they introduced side x sides people were veering off the track and it took a while to realise they needed a bit more training – we’re not used to the steering wheel being on the left of the vehicle in New Zealand! Jane and these other operators use each other as technical advisers and have a very good picture of what the wider industry is now considering good practice.
I would always recommend using external technical advisers. As a kayak instructor, if I’m teaching by myself, I’m naturally going to evolve some techniques and methods of delivery to suit my own teaching style. Over time, this could lead to quite a wide divergence from what I was taught to do (This is why staff monitoring is important, but that’s a different subject). The same concept applies for an operation; If you’re not engaging with technical advisers from outside your own operation it becomes easy to start drifting away from what the rest of the industry considers normal good practice.
All of the above is one good reason for using external technical advisers. Both Jeremy and Jane from our story above hate paperwork. They’re practical, hands-on people who know how to run a great quadbike tour and look after their customers well. Risk registers, safety objectives and monitoring legislation and guidelines are necessary evils that draws them away from the core of their operation. This is another reason to call in a technical advisor. Perhaps not another quad operator but maybe somebody who is conversant with outdoor activity safety plans – an operations manager from the big outdoor education camp over the hill, or a consultant familiar with the Adventure Activities Regulations. Let them check over your work to ensure you aren’t overlooking things that a fresh set of eyes can spot. One of our operators recently said to me: “It’s amazing how many times you look through a list and don't see what's missing.”
Lastly, please remember that a technical advisor provides advice. Just like a school teacher can't write a student's exam for the student, don't expect TAs to be responsible for your safety plans.
Audits are expensive and auditors time is a big part of that cost. If your TA can help you better understand your requirements, you could shave hours off your audit time, saving money and a lot of stress, as well!
Audits: To make it easier to follow the rules; understand the rules
Being audited and providing evidence to your auditor can be a painful process. We don’t want it to be, and we work hard to make the process as smooth as possible. Bear in mind, we get audited too! The key thing to make an audit easier is to know what the audit is all about.
Here are three questions we are routinely asked:
Adventure Activity Operators are subject to the Safety Audit Standard for Adventure Activities. Prior to your audit, we strongly recommend reading the Safety Audit Standard document. If you become more conversant with it, you’ll find definitions for technical advisers, as well as gain greater clarity around having clear objectives that address safety and effect improvement (yes, this is a requirement!). The ability to show compliance in the first instance will keep audit costs as low as possible because your auditor’s time isn’t spent explaining what elements of your operation ‘need’ auditing.
The Adventure Activities Regulations require a Compliance Audit. The easier it is for your auditor to identify that you are compliant with all the requirements (of the Safety Audit Standard), the earlier they can report and complete your audit (keeping expenses to a minimum). Highly compliant operators are also subject to lower levels of surveillance during the certification period.
Auditors are not consultants and are not technical advisors. In fact, to answer one of the questions above, if we tell you how to fix a non-conformity, we become non-compliant ourselves. It doesn’t matter how we feel or what our opinion is on this topic, those are the rules.
To help understand the rules:
WorkSafe have published a safety alert that highlights the serious health and safety risks posed for divers if they have been exposed to COVID.
WorkSafe advice is that anyone with respiratory symptoms should not dive and should arrange for COVID testing.
You can find out more and read the full safety alert on the WorkSafe website.
The AdventureMark office will be closed on 22 December until 10 January. Please contact Mike [email protected] before that time if you have any conditions that need to be addressed during this period so that we can ensure smooth, ongoing certification.
This year has been another challenging year for the outdoor industry. We want to acknowledge the strength and spirit of the adventure sector. There have been some long phone calls and lots of emails trying to make sense of compliance rules while stuck in lockdown and unable to operate. Thank you to those of you who contributed with submissions on the proposed changes to the Adventure Activities regime. Hopefully we can continue to work in system that is driven by the operators it oversees.
Please remember to check your conditions of certification. Reports may contain open nonconformities and if these are not closed out on time, we may need to require additional audit work to ensure ongoing compliance, which is an unnecessary cost. There is also a requirement to inform your certification body of any notifiable events or if you have any changes to key staff.
From everyone at AdventureMark, we wish you all a peaceful, merry Christmas and an active and prosperous New Year.
There has been a lot of talk about disclosing risk this year. We’ve identified that a lot of operators are still very attached to liability waivers and disclaimers and that their own lawyers have encouraged them to keep this information in. The Safety Audit Standard for Adventure Activities doesn’t mention waiving risk, but the Health and Safety at Work Act says that you cannot contract out of any duty owed under the Act. We recommend checking out the new risk disclosure template on the SupportAdventure website.
The Safety Audit Standard does say that “The operator must have procedures for risk disclosure between the operator and participant, and subsequent acknowledgement.” Consider the type of participants you may get, I recall customers arriving for raft trips in tailored pants and patent leather shoes, shocked that they might get wet on their “boat ride”! It makes sense to manage their expectations early. A clear disclosure of risk on your website or online booking system would help with this and could even minimise the chance of a bad TripAdvisor review from someone who was in over their head!
If an opportunity is being provided on the website to register and in particular pay for an activity, then sufficient information should be made available at that point in time to enable a reasonable person to make an informed decision as to whether the adventure activity is suitable for them.
The Whakaari investigation has thrown some weight behind the view that risk disclosure should be made at the time the contract between the parties was entered into, ie when the participant registered. It is not appropriate to semi-disclose risks at the time of booking and then fully disclose the risks when the participant arrives on site.
Talking about risks and the potential danger of adventure activities is not something you should sugar-coat or downplay. Don’t use obtuse wording- tell it as it is. The best form of risk disclosure is good old fashioned basic language with no legal spin. Our society is changing and many of your clients may not have English as their first language. Ensure you know your clients and where possible, cater for additional languages. Disclose risks multiple times to help aid understanding.
As the operator, you have a duty of care and part of that includes taking reasonable steps to ensure the client understands the potential risks and what they should do and should not do to stay safe.
One of the encouraging trends we’ve started to notice in 2021 is that operators have started to take a real interest in their Safety Management System. It’s been heartening to see that the SMS is shifting from a dusty ring binder required for compliance, to a living system used by staff daily to ensure they follow correct procedures. This leads to better continual improvement with shorter, more specific safety plans that staff understand and can adhere more easily to.
Some of our operators tell us that they’ve been running a safe activity for 35 years and there is no need for paperwork. You may be able to provide a great experience but there is still the requirement for a Safety Management System that meets the requirements of the Safety Audit Standard for Adventure Activities. If you know how to provide a safe activity, write it down. Who knows, maybe others can learn from your knowledge.
Start by figuring out who the SMP is for…it’s not a marketing exercise. It should be succinct and easy to navigate. If a contract guide comes back after three months, how easily can they find any amendments, or what equipment is required for a particular tramp?
Contracting a consultant can be good but please shop around for someone who actually works in or understands the activities you provide! We have audited several safety plans this year that have been obstructed, instead of helped, by generic health and safety information that has nothing to do with the activities provided. This can leave you vulnerable as any investigation will quickly notice that there is no possible way you (an owner/operator running weekend abseiling) can adhere to the 200 pages of requirements (including safety committee meetings and re-evaluating staff heavy machinery licenses) that you probably haven’t even read properly.
When reviewing a draft good practice document earlier this year, one of the emails from a fellow reviewer stuck with me. The document was a bit long and I’d just got through it when my email pinged with this:
“I didn’t read the whole thing but then again, who does?”!
The best safety plans are short and to the point. Richard Branson is credited with saying, “Any fool can make something complicated. It is hard to make something simple. Complexity is your enemy”. Consider this when you next review your SMS.
This article was originally written for a SupportAdventure newsletter (July 2021)
A common issue that has been raised during audits and by WorkSafe is how participants are made aware of the hazards and risks in the activity they have booked onto. The traditional terms we use for the sign-in sheet our participants use can be 'Waiver' or 'Liability Release' but with HSWA and ACC legislation, we can’t really waive risk at all: Lots of operators still consider a 'waiver' or 'liability release' to be the way to go, but Section 28 of the HSWA says this:
No contracting out
A term of any agreement or contract that purports to exclude, limit, or modify the operation of this Act, or any duty owed under this Act, or to transfer to another person any duty owed under this Act--
(a) has no effect to the extent that it does so; but
(b) is not an illegal contract under subpart 5 of Part 2 of the Contract and Commercial Law Act 2017.
The Safety Audit Standard for Adventure Activities (a document all commercial adventure activity providers should be conversant with and need to comply with) requires: “The operator must have procedures for risk disclosure between the operator and participant, and subsequent acknowledgement”.
In other words, you have to tell your clients what risks they can expect to encounter and have them acknowledge that risk. Using a clear, concise “Risk Disclosure Form” could be a better way to meet requirements.
This can be a two-way form as you can disclose the reasonably foreseeable risks in the activity and also use the form to identify risks presented by the participants, such as medical and physical conditions, etc. It’s important that the risk disclosure, required by the Standard, isn’t diluted or lost in a long wordy 'waiver' that section 28 of the HSWA says:
“has no effect to the extent that it does so”.
When you review your waiver/liability release/risk disclosure ask yourself: If a WorkSafe investigator asked your client “What were you given and asked to sign before the activity?” would they say that they were informed of the likely risks or would they say it was a generic form to “sign their life away”?
Annual surveillance is coming up for a lot of operators soon.
One of the things you'll be asked is how you review incidents and analyse trends. Section 8.2 of the Safety Audit Standard for Adventure Activities 2017 (SAS) says this: "The operator must establish a process for investigating and reviewing incidents, understanding the underlying causes, identifying improvements to the SMS, and analysing trends.
Recommendations from incident reviews must be implemented and communicated to staff and relevant other parties."
It's pretty common for operators to report their incident pretty well and conduct comprehensive interviews with their staff. What isn't always done well is the second bit - understanding underlying causes and identifying areas for improvement.
We often see detailed records of events leading up to the critical moment of injury or incident but significantly less focus on why it happened. Often "human error" is concluded to be the root cause an no improvements are suggested - "these things happen in adventure activities, otherwise they wouldn't be adventures".
These things do happen, and will continue to happen, and lives will be enriched and tragically affected for as long as we continue to pursue adventure, and that shouldn't change.
But while we are providing adventure activities to paying customers in our incredibly beautiful "offices", we need to ensure that we are doing all that we can to ensure everyone goes home safely afterwards. "Human error" can cause incidents, as humans we're fallible. With that knowledge, in an investigation we need to ask why human error wasn't considered as a hazard when assessing the risks. We need to move away from "who" and focus on "what"; If we look at what circumstances or procedures were in place, we can start to identify what made it possible for that person to do the wrong thing. We can't prevent human error, but we should strive to improve processes where an error is less likely to lead to a significant event. Change (continual improvement) happens through learning. This is most likely to happen when we stop looking to blame a person, and start looking to improve the process that allowed the error to occur.
I learnt a new term recently - "fundamental attribution bias". This is the tendency to blame the situation or conditions if I make a mistake but to attribute human error to the same incident if it happens to someone else! The flip side of that coin is we accept success to be a result of our own hard work, but when others succeed, we attribute this to the opportunities they had, and not their hard work! - Feel free to forget the term, but there's an interesting lesson here.
"What if I haven't had any incidents?" Don't despair, if you're engaging with good technical advisors (Sections 4.2, 5.1 & 10 of the SAS), they should have a good idea of what incidents your sector has experienced and how the reviews/investigations went. It would be a waste if we didn't use previous incidents to minimise the chance of making a mistake that's already been made by someone else.
Remember, mistakes are much less likely to happen when we have systems in place that have considered human error and planned ahead for it.
Running a major outdoor event is a challenging business. Managing the safety of hundreds of people over challenging terrain is fraught with difficulties. Risk is an inherent part of running an event and part of the reason so many people in New Zealand enjoy participating in major events.
Although not all events in New Zealand are subject to the Adventure Activities Regulations, they are subject to the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA). At AdventureMark we offer our Green Certification Audit to give you confidence that your safety management system stacks up against the best in the industry. This full audit against ISO 21101 and/or the New Zealand Safety Audit Standard for Adventure Activities involves a comprehensive review of your documentation, with the Events Team working with you on-site on the day of the event. This helps identify issues that aren't always picked up in the documentation and provides an impartial perspective of the safety performance of your event.
Our Events Team has many years’ experience, competing in, running and assessing major events here in New Zealand and overseas. Our extensive reporting allows you to continually improve your safety systems and our internationally recognised certification will let your participants know that you take their safety seriously.
Please contact us to find out more.
Since the implementation of the Adventure Activity Regulation scheme, SupportAdventure.co.nz has been the one-stop-shop for outdoor/adventure tools, templates and good practice documents. Recreation Aotearoa and Tourism Industry Aotearoa have partnered to represent the interests of the Adventure Activity sector. RA and TIA have jointly provided the SupportAdventure website, published the SupportAdventure newsletter and led the development of the first Activity Safety Guidelines.
Both these organisations rely heavily on membership for funding and, since COVID hit our industry, these memberships are more important than ever. It's easy to say that without clients the first cost saving measure can be to drop an affiliation or membership but bear in mind that these organisations continue to work hard on all of our behalf. It's a "help us to help you" situation.
The Whakaari/White Island disaster has resulted in numerous investigations, reviews, and enquiries by various government departments. These include Coronial investigations, WorkSafe NZ’s 13 prosecutions, the Department of Internal Affairs' consideration of access to Whakaari/White Island, and Department of Conservation visitor risk management.
Currently a targeted review by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) of the adventure activities regime is underway and representatives from these groups are involved and continue to provide perspectives to WorkSafe, MBIE and other government entities. As auditors who need to remain impartial, we have been specifically excluded.
If you want to have an opportunity to influence changes to the Adventure Activities regulatory regime, membership through these advocacy groups may be the best way to have your voice heard.
More about the review can be found on the MBIE website.
You can watch a webinar from Recreation Aotearoa on the review here.
Integra/AdventureMark Blue Certification is JAS-ANZ accredited. AdventureMark Blue certification is approved by WorkSafe NZ under the WorkSafe NZ Adventure Activities Certification Scheme.
New Zealand Adventure Tourism Safety Certification
Mobile (NZ): 0800 394 436
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