Balancing health and safety with putting on a ‘Wow’ event

As an event organiser, it is probably one of the most stressful parts of your role and certainly raises the biggest dilemma – how do you balance putting on a firecracker of an event, that contains a real ‘Wow Factor’, with meeting Health and Safety standards and preventing fines, claims, imprisonment or bad press for your company and board of directors?

HSE Research into attitudes to Health and Safety issues within the events industry states that there is a widespread feeling from events organisers that they are working under legislation that contains ‘lots of grey areas as to how responsibility is passed on and where the buck stops if anything happens’. The truth of the matter is that the majority of the time, as the event organiser, you personally own the responsibility and the buck stops with you.

However, with careful planning and management it is possible to change a potentially hazardous venue into a safe place to be. It is for this reason that you should be on conducting a thorough risk assessment of your event.

By law you must do everything ‘reasonably practicable’, which in simple English means that you must do everything that is in your power, to ensure that both your event and your staff are safe.
The Law requires every employer to undertake a Risk Assessment (RA) for every task their employees will perform and in the case of an event, as event organiser, you are the employer. An RA is quite simply a means to put in place and record control measures against all the significant risks that may be present onsite. Each party associated with your event, including the organiser, venue, contactors & exhibitors must undertake a suitable and sufficient RA for their involvement.

As an organiser, your assessment should cover all major aspects of your event

Employee Safety – Employees (e.g.: contractors’ stand staff, etc.) must take reasonable responsibility for their own health & safety, as well of others who may be affected by what they do at work. It is the duty of each employer (i.e.: organiser, venue, exhibitor, contractor) to ensure that your staff are not put at risk whilst working for you.
Structure Safety – The safety of temporary structures, event equipment, exhibits and the order in which they are constructed is your responsibility. Special attention will need to be given to any temporary structures which may need erecting. You will need to hire the correct professional companies to erect the structures and ensure that all safety checks are undertaken.
Venue & Emergency Plan – A detailed plan of the venue indicating the location of fire exits and including all facilities, stands or attractions, vehicle and people access points should be circulated to all staff attached to the event and also within the venue itself. A thorough emergency plan detailing evacuation procedures will provide important information should any type of emergency break out, thus decreasing the amount of panic within the venue and ensuring that everybody is safely and efficiently evacuated. You may have to liaise with the emergency services and event security and create a planning team to consider all potential major incidents and how you would deal with them.
Communications – It is important to have a strategy in place to ensure that all the different events staff, from event organisers to event security, can fully communicate with one another during the event.
Crowd Control – You will need to work together with Event Security to decide what type of measures, such as barriers will need to be in place to ensure the crowd is correctly controlled.
First Aid – Every event will need adequate medical provision, not only in terms of your emergency plan but also to take into account any attendees who fall ill and may be in need of immediate medical attention.
Contingency plans – An efficient Event Organiser will always consider the possible occurrences which may affect an event and put contingency plans in place to deal with them. These may include:
• Extreme weather conditions
• Problem with the main attraction
• Health and Safety Issues (for example the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease)
Itinerary – A detailed plan of exactly what is happening, when and where over the course of your event will help all involved to understand how the event is meant to be working as a whole. It will also be useful if there is an emergency to get back to plan.

Contractors’ risk assessment should cover the hazards arising from build activities or from supplying the event e.g. working at height, electrical work, lifting operations.

If you are running an exhibition, exhibitors’ risk assessment should cover activities that are being conducted on the stand, e.g. hazards of exhibited machinery and if they are constructing their own stand it should include hazards arising from the construction activities.

You should also come to an agreement with your venue to conduct a separate risk assessment as soon as possible after signing the Tenancy Agreement in order to separate each party’s responsibilities. It is the joint responsibility of both the venue and you, the event organiser to ensure that the venue is suitable for the proposed event.

The venue is directly responsible for the upkeep of the venue – i.e., roofs; walls; columns; floors; ducts; heating and ventilation systems; public gathering places and thoroughfares; basic fire-fighting cover; and all plant, materials and equipment normally stored there.

It is worth remembering, however, that whilst an agreement should be reached and included in the Contract between the venue and organiser for exact areas of responsibility regarding provisions of service and facilities (i.e., cleaning, security, car parks, toilets, etc.), some areas of responsibility may overlap, will vary dependent on your venues and do not absolve your statutory responsibility under Law.

You must also obtain specific risk assessments from every contractor that you appoint.

Your policy and arrangements for managing Health & Safety onsite at your event must be written down formally. Your Health & Safety Policy should be broken down into three major sections:

1. The Policy Statement
2. Organisation of Health & Safety
3. Arrangements for the management of Health and Safety

This demonstrates to an enforcement officer that you have considered and made provision for the safety and welfare of people within the exhibition.

But what is your position if the worst happens and an accident does occur at your event? You need to be sure that you are covered for any liability. There are three types of cover that you should take out without fail as an event organiser
Public Liability Insurance
Public liability covers against claims for damage or injury on third party property.

Employers liability Insurance
Employer’s liability covers against claims by members of staff.

Professional Indemnity Insurance
Professional indemnity covers against claims where you have provided advice or services, in a professional capacity.

Once you have purchased your insurance package, check regularly that the limits obtained are sufficient to cover you and the equipment you are using to ensure you are not under insured.

As you can see, it’s a risky business being an event organiser, but despite being personally liable for anything that goes wrong, with preplanning and thought you can still balance the ‘Wow Factor’ with keeping an event safe.

As an American General once said:

‘Take calculated risks. That is quite different from being rash.’

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Lucy Brazier, OBE is one of the world’s leading authorities on the administrative profession. As CEO of Marcham Publishing, specialist publishers of Executive Support Magazine, Lucy is passionate about ensuring the Assistant role is truly recognised as a ... (Read More)

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