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WorkSafe has confirmed that people carrying out outdoor recreation are responsible for their own risk rather than landowners or businesses.
Recreation Aotearoa and the New Zealand Alpine Club (NZAC) said they were delighted at the clarification over recreational access to private and public land.
The issue that sparked the clubs’ concern was when Auckland Grammar closed public access to a climbing wall in 2017 after a lawyer raised fears about liability.
“Worksafe has made it clear that landowners or the principals in charge of a property don’t have to manage the risks,”John Palmer, the president of NZAC said.
Palmer hoped Worksafe’s clarification would dispel myths affecting thousands of Kiwis seeking access to forestry, farm and land owned by corporates.
Climbers had been practicing on the Auckland Grammar wall for more than 80 years but the Alpine Club was told that changes to the Health and Safety at Work Act (2015) sparked concerns about liability.
Palmer said energy companies had also used perceived risk to restrict access to places like the Waikato River, and so had forestry companies.
“Farmers have often used it but they have their own regime which means their workplace moves around with them to the areas where they are working and not the areas they’re not working, so liability for risk shouldn’t be a reason. The most common concern on farms currently is Mycoplasma bovis.
“The issue of most concern to me is conservation land. You see it when the Department of Conservation puts up signs in hazardous places such as near a cliff which is clearly a natural hazard.
“We’ve had some evidence that DOC and many councils are confused about managing recreational risks – for example on bike trails where a certain amount of risk is part of the attraction,” Palmer said.
Recreation Aotearoa advocacy manager, Sam Newton, said his group had been working for more than a year with WorkSafe on producing the new guidance.
“Access to our bush, mountains, lakes and streams is part of what it means to be a New Zealander,” Newton said.
“However, since the passage of the Health & Safety at Work Act, this has been threatened by a myriad of confusing legalese,” he said.
WorkSafe has placed its guidance on its website confirming the Act only applies to recreational access when the land is affected by work activities or is part of a workplace.
It means the landowner or principal in charge is only responsible for risks arising from the work, and is not responsible for the risks associated with the recreational activities.
They can usually meet their duties by using signs, emails, or verbal warnings to let people know about work hazards.
The only exception is when the landowner or principal’s business also provides the recreational activity. In this case, they’re also responsible for managing risks associated with that activity.
However visitors also had responsibilities regardless of legal right of access to follow reasonable health and safety instructions, and other reasonable requests such as shutting farm gates and not frightening stock during lambing.
The Act doesn’t cover injuries sustained by someone who has accessed land for recreation and hurts themselves as a result of the recreational activity, WorkSafe said.