Case may have ramifications for schools

Otago secondary schools which run their own outdoor pursuits centres will be keeping a close eye on the prosecution of the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre as the case unfolds.

The centre has been charged by the Department of Labour after six pupils and a teacher died in April when they were caught in raging water which swept down the Mangatepopo River.

Four charges were laid this week under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992.

The tragedy killed Elim College teacher Tony McClean and pupils Tom Hsu, Natasha Bray, Anthony Mulder, Tara Gregory, Floyd Fernandes and Portia McPhail.

They were on the river with a centre instructor, Jodie Sullivan, despite heavy rain warnings issued earlier in the day.

Cromwell College assistant principal Tony Streeter said his school was one of several in Otago which ran their own outdoor pursuits centres and was concerned about the ramifications of the trial.

He believed many schools would be watching the trial closely to see what changes to risk management would be made as a result of the prosecution.

"If they put in more rules and regulations, it could make it more difficult to run our programmes."

St Hildas Collegiate School principal Melissa Bell said the school had sent pupils to the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre in the past and would not discount sending them there in the future, whatever verdict came from the trial.

"We look at the providers of these experiences on a case-by-case basis.

''In the past, we've been very satisfied with the management of risk at the centre."

Elim College principal Murray Burton said the school would continue to send pupils to the centre near Turangi after the prosecution was completed.

"We stand by our support for the outdoor pursuits centre and the work they do.

''As one of this country's pre-eminent outdoor education providers we fully expect OPC will address the charges and resolve the aspects specifically mentioned so that we can resume our participation at the earliest possible opportunity."

The Department of Labour said yesterday it believed the centre should have done more "to better ensure the safety of the group on the day".

One charge relates to the centre's obligation to ensure the safety of other people in the place of work; one relates to its obligation to ensure that its employees' actions did not expose others to avoidable risks; and two relate to obligations to protect the centre instructor who went into the gorge with the school party.

The charges were laid in the Wellington District Court, but will be filed in the Taumarunui District Court - the closest to the outdoor pursuits centre's head office.

The centre could be fined up to $250,000 for each offence and ordered to pay reparations to victims' families.

The first hearing is likely in four to six weeks.

 

Additional reporting by NZPA 

 

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