Ski chairlift operator trained – Queenstown court hears

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A ski chairlift operator who allegedly told an Auckland couple to jump off in dangerous circumstances had received training according to records.

Coronet Peak staffer Tara Wade had started a project on safely unloading foot passengers less than two weeks before the incident in August last year, Queenstown District Court heard yesterday.

Queenstown skifield operator NZSki faces two charges under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992.

It has denied failing to take all practicable steps to ensure no hazards arose, namely a fall from height, to people who had paid to undertake an activity; and being an employer, failing to take all practicable steps to ensure that no action or inaction of any employee harmed any other person.

The charges were laid following a six-month investigation by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment after the two foot passengers on the chairlift were injured following their fall.

It has previously been reported the Aucklanders, who have been granted name suppression, were on a sightseeing trip and Wade allegedly told them to jump after the Express chairlift went around the bullwheel.

The woman shattered a leg in four places after landing on rocks, required two five-hour surgeries involving bone grafts and spent four weeks in hospital.

At a taking of evidence hearing in the Queenstown District Court before registrar Michelle Pankhurst yesterday, Coronet Peak lift operations manager Cody Stake says all NZSki staff employed to work on the chairlifts were trained in every aspect of the operation.

That included how to deal with foot passengers, or those who needed additional assistance, for example, children, disabled patrons and the elderly, he says.

Stake, who had worked for NZSki since May 2010, having previously worked at Keystone, Colorado, says all NZSki staff participated in a company-wide induction day, before being separated into departmental groups for more intensive training.

Part of that training required staff to complete two projects with a choice of topics, including health and safety.

Wade, working at the top lift station on the day, started a project under the health and safety banner, titled ‘Safe unloading of foot passengers’ on August 20.

Training records also showed the ‘ticket checker’ that day, Mathias Formgren, began a ‘Foot passenger list awareness’ project on August 25 with aiming to “increase the awareness of foot passengers at Express”.

Stake says staff had different areas of responsibility at different stations around the lift, but it was the ticket checkers responsibility to profile guests, identifying any who may need additional assistance and talking them through the loading and off-loading procedure.

The bottom chairlift operator loaded guests on to the chairlift and if they needed the lift to be slowed or stopped communicated that with the top chairlift operator.

The chairlift travelled normally at 4.2m per second and when the chair got to the bullwheel it disengaged and went on to a secondary line at which point the chair slowed down automatically to about 1m per second.

The top chairlift operator could slow the main haul line to either 2.2m per second or 1m per second, which would then slow the secondary line to half a metre per second or a quarter of a metre per second.

The final option was to stop the main haul line altogether, which would also stop the secondary line.
Every option was available to the top lift operator to utilise at their discretion.

Slowing and stopping the chairlift was done with button controls and staff were trained to be in easy reach of those controls at all times, Stake says.

While top lift operators had other tasks, for example clearing snow from the exit ramp, or loading snow on to it, Stake says they were expected to multi-task.

If alerted to foot passengers the procedure was for the staff member to focus their attention on that chai.

“It is stated in the Lift Operations Manual that they can’t be more than 2m away from the controls … it was a requirement to read this manual,” Stake says.

“If somebody was 20m away [from the controls], that wouldn’t be acceptable.”

Dave Hunt – bottom chairlift operator on August 2 – told the court yesterday he saw the couple approaching, went to them and explained the load procedure before loading them on to the chairlift.

Hunt did not tell them about the off-load procedure as he expected that would have been done by the ticket checker Formgren.

Hunt says he took a record of the couples’ chair number and called Wade using a PABX phone to alert her to their arrival.

Hunt says he told Wade what the couples’ chair number was, informed her they were an “older couple and may need assistance, but it was up to her judgement whether [to] slow the lift or stop the lift”.

The matter is next due to be called in the Queenstown District Court on December 3.

 - Otago Daily Times