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A slippery slope

Six children were taken to hospital after a large inflatable slide collapsed at the Masterton Trust House A&P Show at the Solway Showgrounds. PHOTOS/FILE

Operator fined $400,000 after yet another mass-injury incident
Police Constable Allan French discusses the water slide accident with Work Safe NZ’s Mark Donaghue.

The operator of a giant inflatable slide “with an extremely concerning safety record” will have to pay more than $400,000 after yet another mass-injury incident.

JTK Trustee Ltd, trading as Fun Solutions, was fined $350,000 for a slide collapse in Whangamata in 2020, on top of $40,000 in emotional harm reparation, and $12,958 in consequential loss reparation.

The decision in the Waihi District Court comes only a few years after the director of JTK Trustee Ltd was fined more than $100,000 for an incident in Wairarapa that sent multiple children to hospital, and a 2016 slide collapse that had the company banned by Hamilton City Council.

Worksafe, who investigated the incidents, said it had 11 prior interactions with the company.

In February 2015, Fun Solutions’ “mammoth” slide suddenly tipped at Masterton’s A&P show causing dozens of people to fall 12 metres from the top platform.

Six children were transported to Wairarapa Hospital.

Slide company director Eric Gerritsen was fined $115,000 for obstructing the Worksafe investigation into the 2015 Wairarapa slide collapse.

Worksafe said Gerritsen failed repeatedly to provide information and documents.

The investigation’s Summary of Facts detailed a pattern of Gerritsen “ignoring email and phone messages – despite warnings that a failure to provide the information could be considered obstruction”.

He was found guilty on one charge of obstructing a Worksafe inspector under sections 48 and 50[1][b] of the Health and Safety in Employment Act, and was sentenced in Hamilton District Court.

At the time, Worksafe said Gerritsen had prevented the organisation from “possibly learning valuable lessons for other inflatable slide operators”.

“It is unusual and irresponsible for a business owner to not assist with an investigation – particularly in a case that… involved the safety of children,” it said.

Five years later, in an eerily similar incident, the “mammoth” slide collapsed at a festival in Whangamata sending multiple people to hospital.

One man broke both his ankles and has since undergone 11 surgeries.

A Worksafe statement issued after Monday’s sentencing in Waihi District Court said children had again been “put in extreme danger” by the operators of the inflatable slide, who showed little regard for health and safety.

It said the incident in Whangamata in December 2020 sent dozens of people, mostly children falling from heights of up to 12m.

Witnesses said the mammoth slide displayed no rules for riders, and no weight or age checks were carried out by the operators, Worksafe said.

“There were no workers at the top of the slide at the time of its collapse.

“Afterwards people who were on the slide were not evacuated effectively or safely.”

Worksafe said expert reports found the slide was electrically unsafe, had air leaks, and was poorly anchored.

In 2016, Worksafe issued a directive letter to Fun Solutions after a slide collapse at an event in Hamilton Gardens where 10 children fell about 10m.

Hamilton City Council later banned the company from operating at the site.

Worksafe area investigator Paul West said the litany of incidents was worrying.

“On top of the latest incident, this company’s safety record is extremely concerning.

“When people are on an amusement device, they have an expectation their safety is being looked after by the operator.”

He said most operators in New Zealand were aware of the expectations.

“But this business has had numerous failings which is unacceptable.

“For that reason, Worksafe expects improvement from the operator and will take further action as necessary.”

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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