Coroner releases report into BOP tourist drowning

Denis Miklus died in June 2018 at the Polynesian Spa, Rotorua. He was fit and had no ongoing medical conditions, the Coroner has said. Photo: Benn Bathgate/Stuff.

A man was found floating face down at a Rotorua pool complex where the duty manager was “unaware of the absence of a rostered lifeguard”.

The Coroner’s report into the death of French tourist Denis Miklus​ at Rotorua’s Polynesian Spa also notes the spa was short-staffed that day and, for a period, there was “no supervision in the adult pool areas”.

Miklus died on June 19, 2018, and Coroner Matthew Bates’ report rules the cause was drowning.

Bates said Miklus was fit and healthy and with no ongoing medical conditions – and has urged lifeguards to intervene immediately if they see anyone with their head underwater in higher temperature thermal pools.

On the day he died, Miklus was dropped off at the spa by his partner Jany Toomaru​ at 11.43am. He was discovered just after 1pm “alone, floating face down in what was known as the 42-degree Priest Pool”.

“Polynesian Spa staff removed Mr Miklus from the pool and commenced CPR. Emergency services attended and continued resuscitation efforts. Unfortunately, Mr Miklus could not be revived and was pronounced dead at the scene.”

Bates said on the day Miklus died the spa was short-staffed and that there was “simply no evidence that a lifeguard was monitoring the adult pool areas when Mr Miklus got into difficulty”.

He said there was “conflicting evidence” as to staffing on the day, with Polynesian Spa “adamant that all rostered lifeguards were covered that day”.

Bates, however, said “there is no evidence of the presence of lifeguard 3. There is no evidence of replacement cover for lifeguard 3”.

Bates said he found evidence of just two lifeguards present “responsible for lifeguard duties usually shared by three lifeguards”.

A separate WorkSafe investigation into the death found “the number of lifeguards on duty on 19 June 2018 was sufficient for the number of bathers at the time”, however Bates said he was “unable to agree”.

“The level of lifeguard supervision required in terms of Polynesian Spa’s own policy and procedures, taking into account the particular layout of Polynesian Spa, and the requirements set out in the Aquatic Facilities Guidelines, fell short on 19 June 2018 due to the reduced number of lifeguards on duty”.

However, Bates also said he accepted “entirely” a statement from Polynesian Spa chief executive Gert Taljaard​ that the facility had a “proud health and safety history”.

Bates said he did not wish to minimise Miklus’ death, or an earlier drowning in 2003, but “I need to be clear that the health and safety systems employed by Polynesian Spa, when implemented as intended, are very effective and fit for purpose, as evidenced by the spa’s excellent record over many years”.

Taljaard also told the Coroner’s Court that in the wake of Miklus’ death they recruited an additional lifeguard.

Bates made a number of recommendations in his report, including closing or delaying openings of certain areas of the spa in the event of staff shortages.

“There should never be a ‘business as usual’ approach with a reduced number of staff available to supervise all areas and all bathers,” he said.

He also recommended bathers receive a warning not to submerge their heads under the water, and the implementation of a policy “for immediate staff intervention when bathers are seen with their head or face submerged in higher temperature thermal pools”.

He also recommended CCTV to monitor bathers and refresher training for reception staff for safe bathing messages.

-Stuff/Benn Bathgate.

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