Containing the Excitement

John Radford on the use of barriers at events.

Child standing at event barrier
Photo: Getty Images

To protect people, to guide attendees, to secure property or assets, to define areas; there are any number of reasons why a boundary, fence or barrier system may be a requirement on your event site. It’s worth understanding though which systems are most appropriate for your individual requirements as well as investigating other suitable solutions that may be more cost effective or provide something more in line with your vision for the space concerned. Additionally, if we do have to install some barriers across our site, how can we minimise the visual impact as far as practicable whilst maintaining the key reason we have installed them in the first place?

It would be very easy to simply hire or buy a number of Heras or pedestrian style fence panels and erect them around a site. In reality though, maybe we should be asking ourselves a few questions first:

  • Have we selected the right product?
  • What are we protecting?
  • Why are we protecting it?
  • Does the proposed solution fit with the environment or locale?
  • Are there other options?


Are we protecting people or property on the inside or are we preventing people on the outside from putting themselves in danger from what is inside the boundary or gaining access without paying? On a building site for example, we can say that by implementing a strong and effective barrier we are protecting people on the outside from accidentally or maliciously gaining access and then injuring themselves. During a build and derig phase of an event, protection may be needed, especially if we are working with structures and plant that create high risk areas that need to be managed.

These circumstances will require a barrier that is commensurate with the risk level. Would a standard Heras style fence line be an adequate response or is a higher and more robust system required? Is our site at risk from thieves or malicious entry? If so, a more robust solution may also be required. Remember though that a simple unguarded fence line will still be penetrable so look towards security personnel and/or CCTV in order to provide a more effective deterrent. Are there local residents that may be affected if you simply install a 10ft high solid barrier to entry? The visual impact may be considerable.

Defining areas

Barriers and fences don’t just need to be used to protect a site; we can use them to define areas for safety or guide audiences. If we are working towards directing audiences or crowds, we should be taking into account what the dynamic of the audience is and if the guests will be congested. Barriers can then be used to prevent them moving onto, for example, the course of a race, protect a festival footprint or simply ‘guide’ them en-route to a specific location.

Different styles of crowd barrier will have different abilities in terms of being able to withstand pressure from audiences. Some will have legs that increase their footprint and could cause significant trip hazards. In order to utilise the right product, you should discuss your needs with your supplier or event safety advisor. Do not assume that a pedestrian barrier is the same across the board – some will be designed for different scenarios and selecting the wrong product could cause significant safety issues.

A creative barrier solution

Simple systems

Barriers don’t always have to be a metal product. Where you just need to indicate routes or provide assistance for guests you may wish to use ‘rope and pin’ or even just stewards. It can sometimes be easier to simply install fencing but think about whether there is a more appropriate answer to the requirement, possibly more in keeping with the environs.

If we are presenting an event with stages, we would also need to investigate whether a front of stage barrier is required. For dynamic events with larger audiences this is a certainty but if we are expecting 300 guests for a small brass band and a picnic, it is likely that a front of stage pit barrier would be unwarranted (and costly) – a simple rope and post system would work, perhaps with some light stewarding. An appropriate risk assessment will determine if this will be adequate. Remember, every situation is unique and all scenarios should be considered on their own merits.

Simply using the cheapest option, or not using the right product for the right purpose, can lead to significant safety issues. If you aren’t sure what you need then talk to people who can advise you appropriately. These can be event production staff, suppliers or safety advisors – not making assumptions is key.

An important element of any barrier is that it is installed correctly. The majority of barrier hire businesses will provide this service and you should then have a stable and safely installed system. There are however times when you will want to do the installation yourself. Make sure that you know how the system should be installed and ensure that those doing the task are adequately trained and have the right tools and equipment. A key consideration with installation and removal is also the potential need for large lorry deliveries – have you provided a safe space for them to park and unload/load away from the public with enough space to position racks or stillages so they can be accessed when needed? Do you need barrier for the barrier delivery?!

Adding value

One of the key areas that has certainly developed over the last number of years is creative ways in which to use fencing and barriers. On many occasions we have seen event sites with a strong creative focus simply leave barriers bare and this is a missed opportunity in my eyes.

Why not look at the barriers as a potential resource to extend the creativity of your event:

  • Advertising for event sponsors can be created to fit on the panels, although care needs to be taken to ensure panels are made of an appropriate mesh, otherwise they can quickly become a sail and catch the wind. In the right location and format this might provide you with an untapped source of income
  • In high footfall areas, use the space to create information panels for your guests. If they are located where queues may form, they can inform the audience of things like costs of entry, restricted items or simply tell them the event schedule
  • If you have an artistic team, why not create some bespoke artwork? Use some blank panels as a large canvas – these could be installed at the start or be a work of art created as part of the event.

At a number of our events we have used artwork, sponsorship and information across sites on barriers to soften the tone. A couple of our sponsors now use the space to combine their advertising with bespoke photography of the area to link with the event. We are still learning how we can maximise the potential of the idea and it will continue to develop over the coming years, but this approach has changed how we look at the potential of any areas that require barriers.

So yes, we will all need barriers and fences on many occasions during our events but make sure you are using the right product, and if in doubt ask someone who can advise. Look at what you can create by having to use barriers – they can improve as well as protect!

John Radford

About the Author
John Radford runs JR Event Services and has worked in the event industry for over 20 years. He provides event management and event safety consultancy services for a broad spectrum of events from single day and city centre cultural events to week long music and dance festivals. Visit or call 01275 406760 for an informal chat.



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