The Whakaari/White Island disaster. An analysis informed by sociological theories of risk


  • Silvia Zanini no affiliations
  • Dr Simon A Bennett University of Leicester, England



White Island, Whakaari, Adventure tourism, Volcanic eruption, Sociological theories of risk, Systems-thinking, Organisational accident


On December 9, 2019, the volcano on Whakaari/White Island, a popular New Zealand (NZ) tourist destination, erupted. Twenty-two people died. Drawing on sociological theories of risk, most particularly on systems-thinking, this qualitative analysis describes the origins of the disaster, formulates questions for the authorities and suggests actions to reduce the chances of a repeat. It is concluded that the safety culture of NZ’s adventure tourism (AT) industry requires attention. It is also concluded that bureaucratic devices such as the adventure tourism insurance cover provided by NZ’s Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) may have encouraged, through a risk-compensation dynamic, greater risk-taking. It is suggested that improved oversight will deliver a safer adventure tourism industry. It is recommended that the authorities investigate to what extent insurance cover influences business practices.


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Author Biographies

Silvia Zanini, no affiliations

Mrs Silvia Zanini graduated from Leicester University with an MsC in Risk, Crisis and Disaster Management in January 2020. She has extensive risk experience gained in the UK and NZ working for several large organisations both in the private and public sectors. She is interested in risk culture and incident and crisis management.

Dr Simon A Bennett, University of Leicester, England

Dr Simon Bennett directs the Civil Safety and Security Unit. He is interested in the organisational social economic and political origins of risk. For example loss of organisational memory mindlessness groupthink reductionism satisficing hollowing-out aggressive profit-seeking and graft. He has published extensively on aviation safety issues and has spent over 1500 hours on the jump-seats of a variety of rotary and fixed-wing aircraft including the EC135 and A321. His aviation research takes in flight-deck human factors and functionalist cultural transformation tools such as crew resource management (CRM). He is a Member of the Air Safety Group of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS). He has trained pilots in CRM and fatigue-risk management has spent time in a B737 simulator and has taken safety and emergency procedures (SEP) courses on a variety of types including the B747-800. Dr Bennett has worked with the Royal Air Force and UK National Police Air Service (NPAS) on human-factors issues. His latest book Safety in Aviation and Astronautics. A socio-technical approach was published by Routledge in 2022.






How to Cite

Zanini, S., & Bennett, S. A. (2024). The Whakaari/White Island disaster. An analysis informed by sociological theories of risk. New Zealand Journal of Health and Safety Practice, 1(1).