An Auckland woman feared she might drown after her hair got caught in a flotation tank's filtration system as she lay in darkness.
The 23-year-old, who did not want to be named, was eventually freed after a staff member at the Botany Infinity Float Centre cut her entangled hair free on September 12.
The owners of the centre, Renay Chand and Jaskarn Dhatt, said they were mortified and the last thing they want to do is injure someone in a business focused on relaxation.
Chand said the business closed for two days after it happened to investigate. The tanks filtration system now no longer turns on automatically.
The injured woman said she was speaking about her experience not to damage the business, but to warn others of the risks of the therapy for people in physical and mental recovery.
Her incident comes after Auckland teacher Arna Metcalfe suffered a neck injury after her hair was also pulled into the tank's filter during an incident in July last year.
Metcalfe said she managed to rip her hair free but pulled a muscle at the same time. She was shocked to discover another incident had happened after being reassured after her incident.
Chand said the company had completed 11,000 floats since opening and had two incidents.
"Following the second incident which is over a year apart from the first we shut our business down voluntarily till we as business owners found the solution to ensure this wouldn't happen again. We have been able to turn off the automatic filtration process and added many other precautions since."
A float tank allows users to immerse themselves in a pod of salt enriched water with no external noises or distractions.
The woman who went to the float centre on September 12 signed a form outlining a few precautions, but nothing mentioning the orientation of the tank or the risk of the filtration system starting up automatically.
She said she asked her if she should tie her hair up but was told she didn't need to.
After an hour in the pod, she did not hear music to alert her the session was over, saying she was told to wear ear plugs to stop water going into her ears.
There was a bump on her head and she reached out to discover a big chunk of her hair was caught in the filtration system.
"My first instinct was to freak out and sort of try and get loose.
"I'm using my whole body strength and then I just flip over in the water... and I was swallowing water."
She kicked her foot around and managed to get the lid up, yelled for help and a staffer came to the door saying "are you okay?".
A manager arrived and cut her hair free, near the top of her skull.
"Meanwhile, I was hyperventilating.
"My hair looked like it had been done in like a big, messy bun on the top of my head. It looked horrible."
Chand said an employee said she had explained to the woman the right way to get into the pod, but the woman told her that was not the case. She went into the tank the wrong way.
"As a business owner if [the woman] says she wasn't told then that is what I take on board.
"She stayed in the tank long enough after the session ended for the music to play for five minutes at the end, which she was informed was the cue to get out of the tank.
"An audio message saying 'Your session is over' played once the music ended, this is followed by a brief pause before the pump starts to get ready for filtration, this automatically starts to filter the water so it's ready for the next client.
"The pump makes a very loud sound when starting, however the client still remained in the tank past all these notifications and eventually her hair started getting pulled into the filtration inlet."
Chand and Dhatt tested the tanks for any malfunctions and the music to ensure it could be heard. Staff were retrained on informing clients about the right way to get into the tanks.
The owners got in touch with a global group of float centres and contacted the manufacturers of the pods in Singapore. They have found a way to customise the tanks so the filtration systems do not come on automatically but are manually triggered after clients are out of the tank.
"There is also an emergency button inside each tank as an added measure of safety; when this is activated this sends an alarm to our staff," Chand said.
The owners have been in regular touch with the woman to discuss what happened, support her and update her on the investigation. They also gave her a refund, two movie tickets and a hamper.
As a small business we hope this will not deter people from experiencing a float or think negatively about float therapy as we are a close knit community with an ultimate goal of giving back rest, recovery and tranquillity."
WorkSafe on Monday confirmed that it was alerted of last year's incident by Metcalfe.
"While that incident did not meet the threshold for investigation, WorkSafe intends to carry out a work place assessment within the next month, to ensure Float New Zealand Limited is meeting health and safety obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015."