Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

InsightIt’s been just over a year since a 36-year-old construction worker was killed on the Big Island when a zipline tower there collapsed, critically injuring another man also working at the site.

Hawaii lawmakers introduced legislation last spring aimed at implementing statewide zipline regulation and inspection following the Big Island accident, but that bill later stalled in the House Finance Committee, and its fiscal feasibility has since been questioned by state auditor Marion Higa in a report submitted to Gov. Neil Abercrombie and the Hawaii State Legislature earlier this month.

“Despite a tragic accident costing the life of a zipline course builder’s employee in September 2011, there is insufficient data supporting the existence of a serious risk to the public’s health, safety, and welfare,” Higa said in the report, noting that the construction worker’s death was the only zipline-related fatality in the state’s history.

Higa estimated that the new legislation would require an initial set-up cost of $400,000, along with an another $350,000 annually, for the state’s Department of Land and Industrial Relations to develop and maintain a zipline inspection and regulation program. She added that Hawaii’s current group of 22 zipline operators would have to pay first-time licensing fees of $18,000 followed by annual fees of $15,000 to cover the costs of that program.

The state auditor’s report also pointed out that Hawaii’s ziplines are already inspected annually for insurance purposes by accredited experts, resulting in an industry that “is basically self-regulating.”

Daniel Galanis, an epidemiologist working in the Hawaii Dept. of Health’s Injury Prevention and Control Program, said a recent search of the state’s hospitalization records turned up only five zipline-related injuries occurring between 2008 and August 2012. According to the state auditor’s report, an estimated 700,000 people ride on zipline and canopy tours each year in Hawaii.

“Generally, we found the aerial adventure course industry, which includes ziplines and canopy tours, has a good safety record, given that certain risks are inherent in such activities,” Higa said in her report.

The September 2011 zipline fatality did, however, impact bookings for Big Island tour operator Hawaii Forest & Trail, which debuted its Kohala Zipline product earlier that year.

“We were seeing a steady increase in bookings starting out,” said Rob Pacheco, Hawaii Forest & Trail founder and president. “And then when the accident happened, reservations just fell off. …It had an immediate six to nine month impact on us.”

Pacheco opposed the state legislature’s zipline regulation bill but supports the idea of government guidelines ultimately regulating Hawaii zipline operators, provided the financial cost isn’t too “onerous.”

In the meantime, though, he recommended that travel agents and consumers ask zipline operators about whether or not they adhere to standards set by the Association for Challenge Course Technologies (ACCT), a national organization that has developed a rigorous set of rules for zipline course design and operator training.

“Businesses that are committed to following those ACCT standards should give consumers and resellers a high level of confidence,” Pacheco said.

To view the entire state auditor’s report on the proposed Hawaii zipline legislation, visit
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