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Hawaii zipline death puts pressure on the state

Hawaii zipline death puts pressure on the state

May 6, 2014

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 ultra hazardous 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.

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