Safety gear a few days too late

ROB KIDD
Last updated 16:31 21/02/2014
Brabet
FATAL FALL: Auckland man Clifford Brabet was 57 when he fell from a 14 metre high-ropes adventure course.

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A West Auckland adventure park, where a man fell to his death during a team-building activity, was only days away from installing a system that would have saved his life.

Clifford Brabet, 57, of Auckland, fell 14 metres from the high wires at Tree Adventures Ltd in Woodhill Forest, near Helensville, on March 3, 2013.

The incident prompted a Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment investigation which resulted in a charge  being laid under the Health and Safety in Employment Act.

After pleading guilty to failing to identify a hazard the company was today fined $24,500 and ordered to pay Brabet's partner $80,000 for the emotional and financial impact the loss had on her.

Judge Jane Farish said it was not about putting a price on a life, rather recognising the ongoing trauma being suffered.

While on his third piece of apparatus, Brabet was pulled backwards and fell off a "surfboard" that he was using to travel between two platforms, after a pulley that he had incorrectly put in place detached from a wire.

A Tree Adventures staff member, who was stationed on the ground nearby, began to warn him but Brabet stepped off the platform before he could do so.

Brabet was doing a "high-flyer course" with his wife and friends and died at the scene, despite the efforts of a doctor and paramedic who were also on a course at the time.

In the Waitakere District Court today, Judge Farish was told how the hazard had been recognised by the company. It had been only days away from installing an enhanced safety system.

Tree Adventures was delaying the installation only because bosses wanted to make sure they were fully compliant, which Judge Farish said was "rather poignant".

"A couple of days and we wouldn't be here," the company's lawyer, Peter Hunt, said.

After the incident the park was closed for a month out of respect for the family and to give staff a chance to recover.

Hunt described his client as "a responsible and safety-conscious operator", which had since become an industry leader after spending $60,000 on the new safety measure.

The "Clic-it" system essentially meant participants would be unable to detach themselves from safety wires. Previously, people had been expected to make sure they were attached correctly.

Co-director Jimmy Moore said in an affidavit that the business was "barely treading water" and was now trading at a deficit.

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The company was insured so could pay the fine straightaway, but would have to pay the reparation in instalments.

"The loss of Mr Brabet's life still has a profound impact on my life and the lives of all the Tree Adventures staff, and we would not be open today if we did not believe we had taken all practicable steps to prevent incidents of serious harm from occurring in the future," Moore said in a statement outside court.

Judge Farish said the tragedy should send the message that safety was paramount for the country's adventure tourism industry.

"We seem to be attracted to high-adrenaline, high-risk activities," she said.

"It's important we're seen to have a gold standard, because as everyone here understands the risks are high and the consequences are often fatal."

- Stuff

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