Did you know that the
State of Hawaii regulates electrologists, masseuses, and hearing aid dealers, but not
operators of ziplines? Would you rather be confident that the electronic
removal of your body hair is done properly, or that the small cable you
are dangling on 150 feet above the ground will not give-way?
The recent death of a zipline worker on Maui has renewed calls for the
State to regulate this ultrahazardous activity. In response to the death
of a zipline worker on the Big Island in 2011, when a zipline tower collapsed
because it was anchored in unstable soil, the State Auditor concluded
that regulation was unnecessary. According to the "Sunrise Analysis: Regulation of Ziplines and Canopy Tours" issued in October 2012, the State lacks enough staffing and money.
The Auditor cited as an example the backlog of 5,000 elevators which require
inspection. Other justifications included: few serious zipline-related
injuries, zipline customers are aware the activity is dangerous and sign
liability waivers, and the industry basically self-regulates.
The self-regulation characterization is a bit of stretch. The idea is most
zipline companies have liability insurance, and these insurers will require
annual inspection reports.
Ironically, the proponent of the legislation addressed by the Auditor was
the zipline industry itself. The industry was concerned that its "lucrative" business could
be jeopardized due to bad publicity. It is estimated that around 700,000
people per year ride ziplines in Hawaii, and the cost of a zipline tour
is approximately $90-$200. This means 22 ziplines generate total revenue
in the neighborhood of $70,000,000 each year. When the supposedly self-regulated
industry is asking for governmental oversight, the State should listen.
While there may have been few serious zipline-related injuries so far,
the activity has not been around for very long. The first zipline course
in the United States was built in Hawaii in 2002. What will happen to
zipline courses as they age? Ziplines are built in areas with picturesque
scenery, yet it is that scenery which poses risks to the integrity of
the course through corrosion, erosion, and decay.
The State needs to impose and enforce standards for constructing and maintaining
ziplines. Let's not count on insurance companies to make Hawaii's
ziplines safe. Let's not wait for a zipline customer to die before
getting the State involved. And being overworked and underpaid is never
a good reason to ignore a dangerous situation.
Hawaii started the zipline industry. It should be at the forefront for
making it safe.