NZSki admits health and safety breach

Michael Morris.
Michael Morris.
NZSKI will be sentenced in the Queenstown District Court by Judge David Holderness this morning after yesterday admitting a breach of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, relating to an incident in August last year.

The company had previously denied failing to ensure no hazard that arose in the place of work, namely a fall from height, harmed people in the place with its express intent and who had paid to undertake an activity there.

The company faces a maximum penalty of $250,000. Counsel Glenn Jones will this morning submit a $40,000 fine would be an appropriate starting point.

A second charge of failing to ensure all practicable steps to ensure no action or inaction of any employee harmed any other person was withdrawn.

The charges were laid by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment following a six-month investigation after two foot passengers - granted permanent name suppression - on the Coronet Express chairlift, at Coronet Peak, were injured after falling, or jumping, from the chairlift on August 2, 2012.

A defended hearing began in October and was to have been continued yesterday.

Crown prosecutor Michael Morris, acting on instructions, said an elderly couple had bought tickets to take a scenic ride up the chairlift, as foot passengers.

They were to disembark at the top for sightseeing before travelling back down the mountain on the chairlift.

''Neither had ridden a chairlift before and it was the first time [the male victim] had touched snow.''

The ''ticket checker'' that day, Mattheus Formgren, let the couple through and showed them where to proceed to load the chairlift, but did not explain how to use it.

The lift operator supervisor was David Hunt, responsible for loading passengers on to the chairlift.

After explaining how to get on to the chairlift and ensuring the bar was lowered, Mr Hunt phoned the lift operator at the top of the chairlift, Tara Wade, alerting her to the foot passengers and suggesting she may need to slow the chairlift when they disembarked ''as they were older''.

He also gave her the number of the chair the couple were on.

''When [the couple] approached the top, they did not raise the bar and unload on the dismount ramp, as they did not know what they were supposed to do or where they were to get off.

''Eventually, they raised the bar and then they fell or jumped off the chairlift when the chair had turned almost 90 degrees around the bull wheel ...''

They fell from more than 1m to the ground, landing on ''large chunks of ice''.

Ms Wade had been sweeping snow, was not standing beside the controls and did not slow or stop the chairlift.

The impact caused the female victim to receive a pilon fracture of her left ankle, with breaks of the left tibia and fibula around the ankle joint. She required surgery to stabilise the fractures with plates and ''faces a long rehabilitation before she can walk again''.

She was also likely to have a ''permanent, noticeable limp''.

Mr Morris said the male victim received a laceration on his knee and he aggravated an existing shoulder injury, rupturing his rotator cuff.

''The defendant's representative said that it was the ticket checker's responsibility to inform foot passengers how to load and unload [and] its employees are verbally informed at an induction training that they are to `stay close to the buttons' when passengers are unloading.

''The defendant had a written policy that it was `down to the judgement' of the top operator as to whether a foot passenger would need the lift slowed or stopped to unload.''