Select the right event safety consultant, with advice from Steve Allen .
Immanuel Kant once said “Experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is mere intellectual play”.
Events, as we all know, differ in type, size, crowd profile, structure, demographics, complexity, structures and location. Your event may have media coverage, be recorded or have a live feed. Some events are indoors, some outside and others a combination of both. Some may have special effects, such as fireworks or lasers, others will have nearby neighbours who may be affected by noise, even more so depending on the way the wind blows.
Other events may have animals, motorsports, fairgrounds, inflatables, hot air balloons or even aircraft. Maybe your event is on the water; one thing for sure is that each event will have people (we hope!). The paying public, free attendees, contractors, guests, artistes, traders, sponsors, the crew that keep the event running and safe, and the VIPs of course – let’s not forget them…
I have had the benefit of experience of a wide range of events from local corporate events through to concert stadium world tours, major football fixtures, world title boxing, festivals, and water events, as well as conducting pre-event consultancy for the Olympics, F1 and motorsports, Red Bull events, the Sydney fireworks, theme parks, at Heathrow airport and at mainline train stations in London and Sydney. I have also represented some of the largest brands in the world.
At Crowd Safety, we have managed safety at royal palace ice skating events at Christmas, and conducted security audits post the Manchester Arena bombing. We continue to be asked to provide fire risk assessments that consider human behaviour in emergencies based on our experience with a wide range of crowds and demographics.
I have had the envious experience of working across every continent on the planet (not Antarctica though, yet), undertaking safety consultancy for a wide range of clients, spanning 30 years to include war zones.
Over the past few years, we have been asked to send more and more subject matter consultants to the Middle East and United States. I emphasise the need for subject matter consultants because one size doesn’t fit all. A safety consultant who may have vast experience in an arena, and perhaps only worked on indoor arena events, will not have the necessary skill set for an outdoor event. Equally, someone who has no experience with fireworks, animals or motorsport, would not be aligned with an event with these attributes.
We are regularly contacted by new event organisers after there has been a serious fallout at the post event debrief with the local authority. This only makes for an uphill struggle to rebuild trust and confidence with the local authority (council, police, fire, NHS ambulance, environmental health, H&S etc.) and the event organiser, as trust has been tarnished by previous episodes. Far better to start right in the first place.
An event organiser’s responsibility
Event organisers have the legal responsibility to engage ‘competent’ safety consultants to assist them with their legal responsibilities in identifying the significant and foreseeable risks associated with their event, that may affect those in attendance and others.
One thing I have learnt is that it pays to ensure you have the right people engaged from the outset. The cheapest is often more costly in the long run.
Do they have the relevant experience for the type of event you are planning? Word of warning, no one is an expert in everything, despite what they may tell you. My knowledge of lasers and noise, together with structures, is limited and I owe it to organisers to be clear on this from the outset. Stick to what you know best. I specialise in the provision of event safety management plans, pre-event meetings and incident management, but my specific areas of speciality are crowds, fire, event and personal security, and the overall safety management of the event along with critical decision making and front of stage barrier configurations.
Event safety has so many areas that need specific attention, so make sure this is addressed from the outset. Check the consultant’s insurance, professional memberships and have them send you written confirmation of their experience and any relevant qualifications. This is key and serves to protect you and assist you with your choice of provider.
Opt for a consultant with a professional H&S qualification (diploma or degree). This, combined with relevant experience of the type of event you are organising, provides you with justifiable satisfaction that you have chosen the right provider. It will also help in mitigation, for your defence, in the event someone gets badly injured, or worse dies, either in the build, event, or de-rig phases.
Make sure that the provider is approachable, amicable and ask them to email you a list of the areas that they can cover along with those areas that they can’t (eg. those additional areas that they will need assistance on). This may be noise, crowds or fire risk assessing for example.
If you have an event where a Safety Advisory Group (SAG) is involved, it is beneficial to you that your choice of consultant will get on with the SAG and inject them with confidence. Admittedly not vital, but I have seen both types, those that rub the SAG up the wrong way (and frustrate everyone else with their belligerence) and those that get on with everyone, whilst communicating clearly. The latter is by far the better for you and works out a lot cheaper, and more productive, on all levels.
Equally, when the amicable choice of safety consultant asks for assistance from your crew, they will often drop everything to help. The power-crazy choice of safety consultant, with an obnoxious attitude, strapped to their clipboard and Hi-Viz, will see a completely different response from those around them. This does absolutely nothing to benefit you, or your event. Remember, these people are ambassadors for you.
As the stress levels of the event increase, you need a calm safety consultant who can manage a wide range of situations. This calls for good leadership and the ability to identify situations in their embryonic phase. If you engage the right people across the board, when these incidents arise, they are far easier to manage. Good crew are worth their weight in gold!
However, you equally don’t want a situation whereby the safety consultant takes on the role of an ostrich, clams up and puts their head in the sand when incidents are incoming. I have witnessed this on numerous events with so called experts. They want the title but dither when they should be making decisions.
At the other extreme are those that overreact to everything, shouting, stressing and generally making mountains out of molehills. Everyone talks a good talk but trust me, it’s all about delivery and how they are going to deal with a situation when the proverbial hits the fan.
Avoiding costly mistakes
I would always recommend engaging an event safety consultant at the earliest stage of your event planning. By taking this approach, you will avert costly consequences. The site design may look pretty, but it may have far reaching issues in relation to crowd management, capacity, evacuation to a place of safety, traders’ access/egress and security numbers.
Many organisers believe that a security ratio of circa 1:100 persons is the equation to work from. It doesn’t work like this. It is based on a number of factors and other considerations such as type of event, location, demographics, structures, capacity etc. The security management plan should be produced by a competent person. This document sets the benchmark for security companies to quote on and fulfil. Note, ensure any contractor contractually commits to providing the numbers of staff agreed in the plan. Further to this, every plan is dynamic as in what’s agreed in January may actually change by the time your event has come around whereby you need more or less staff depending on what is happening.
I have met a lot of so called crowd experts who can talk a good talk and make documents look substantial but they are giving organisers a false sense of security, trying to fill their own pockets and make hay. Beware of these people as crowd related incidents will certainly hit the mainstream media, let alone social media, imminently if and when it goes wrong.
Event fire risk assessing is another area that needs careful consideration. A fire risk assessment is not a document that states smoking is a fire risk, don’t smoke, ooh, and have some fire extinguishers… A suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment will include elements such as the means of escape, occupant capacities, significant fire risks and control measures to reduce these risks to a tolerable level, amongst others.
Control measures are key. They need to be proportionate to the risk. You ideally want someone who can advise you on proportionate and realistic measures. I have met H&S consultants that claim they can do fire safety. My advice is to satisfy yourself that they can and that they have a proven background in this area.
An event has a wide range of fire safety concerns including LPG, various materials used, hot cooking oil, arson, electrics, smoking indoors (even though they shouldn’t), lightning, fuel (liquid and other combustible materials) smoke and the effects that smoke can cause.
There is a famous line which is often used when giving a damning verdict. “I believe you sacrificed safety for the benefit of financial gain”. Don’t go for the cheapest advisor, those worth their salt know what they are worth and know what they can save you in the short, mid and long term. They take pride in their work and have built reputations over many years.
Professional consultants will identify the event specific foreseeable risks, the reasonably practicable measures to reduce those risks and effectively communicate this without writing War and Peace.
Ensure you contract your provider to update the documentation as required and during the event if need be. I use the word ‘specific’ as some providers will simply copy and paste from a previous event, change the title and the event names and submit – not a good look for you when the local authority, or worse the expert witness for the prosecution, highlights this in their reports.
My recommendation is that a safety consultant does the following for you:
– Attends pre-event planning meetings/site meetings
– Inputs on site design (if they have expertise in crowds, not if they haven’t!)
– Attends SAGs (if applicable)
– Assists you with contractor selection (this is key as your contractors’ safety approaches will impact your reputation as they will be picked up by the local authority, or worse, should something go wrong)
– Produces the overall Event Risk Assessment
– Consults with the contractors to provide advance notice of their requirements (eg. RAMs, structural/electrical completion certifications etc.)
– Produces version 1 of the Event Safety Management Plan and subsequent versions
– If competent, produces version 1 of the Fire Risk Assessment and Fire Safety Management Plan and subsequent versions
– Produces the Crowd Management/Security Management Plan (if qualified to do so)
– Has access to suitable external consultants in the event they cannot fulfil certain key areas (crowds, fire, structural, fireworks/lasers, drones etc.)
– Produces pre-event safety checklists
– Conducts incident management
– Conducts event safety monitoring
– Attends the event debrief
There is an abundance of guidance documents available for event organisers, the Purple Guide being the stand out. Managing Crowds Safely and various DCLG Fire Safety guides are also available for event organisers to reference.
We are very fortunate in the UK that we have some world class safety professionals that are well versed in all manner of events and have the necessary skills.
Remember, you cannot absolve responsibility for the event by merely having a safety consultant so make sure you have the correct representation that can provide pragmatic and proportionate advice based on a combination of extensive experience and underpinned by qualifications and professional memberships.
My advice is this, picture yourselves standing in the dock at a corporate manslaughter case and ask yourself this: “Who would I want to be stood next to me when I am stating for the benefit of the court that he or she was my safety consultant selection and these were my reasons why”. Because they were the cheapest should not be your response…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Founded by Steven Allen, a professional safety and security consultant with proven experience of national and international major events, Crowd Safety is a professional health and safety, event safety, fire safety and crowd management consultancy based in the UK.
Crowd Safety provides clients with subject specific consultants, each with seasoned judgement and proven track records of national and international major events. The organisation offers a solution based, cost effective, pragmatic and balanced approach to the full spectrum of event projects worldwide. www.crowdsafety.org