Corinne Lane explains an organiser’s duty of care to contractors, staff and volunteers on site, and the importance of going the extra mile for their welfare
Traditionally, the live music event industry has had a somewhat rough and ready reputation. The importance has always been on getting the job done, no matter what, and with what personnel or equipment is available or, more likely, not. Local motorcycle clubs would provide the often untrained ‘security’, a flatbed trailer could be a stage, and hairy roadies with faded tour shirts, heavily reliant on caffeine (or dare we suggest, even more illicit substances?) would work dangerously long hours in all weathers during the build and break.
‘Health and Safety’ at this stage was considered something of an anathema, if not downright dirty words, and too often something to be laughed at. As for staff welfare…?
I have written at some length previously on the need for a good, professional welfare support service for customers at festivals and similar outdoor events. In this article, I’d like to explore the need for good working practice and welfare support for our industry colleagues and those who work ‘behind the scenes’ to make the show happen.
OK, so The Health & Safety at Work Act (1974) sought to address safety issues in all workplaces, but most people would agree that, certainly in the early days, adherence to its principles and its enforcement was not always all that it could, and should, have been. With the first publication of The Event Safety Guide: A Guide to Health, Safety and Welfare at Music and Similar Events in 1999 (also known as The Purple Guide), things began to improve significantly and it remains the ‘go to’ reference book for event promoters.A proactive approach to the welfare and safety of everyone, both customers and staff, on site is vital. The need for good, reliable site infrastructure cannot be over-emphasised. Secure perimeter fencing, good lighting, good signage and trackway are important. Especially at camping events, customers and staff need suitable camping space, i.e. reasonably level, not covered in rocks or animal dung or nettles, and not under three inches of mud or water. They also need easy access to sanitation. It is important that enough toilets and/or showers are provided and that they are regularly cleaned and that toilet paper and water for washing (or sanitation gel, at the very least) is also there. Having an information point, map or some such either online or on site, or both, is also helpful.
Security and stewards need to be properly briefed. There must be an emergency plan in place should there be a major incident. People at all events need access to medical assistance, which will be determined by the event risk assessment, and of course, a Welfare tent for those who needed additional support for whatever reason. These facilities can benefit event staff too.
Staff who work at events, either voluntarily or as paid workers or contractors, should expect the same standards of employee care as in any other job. Good working practice should follow HSE laws and guidelines. Working at events, often under time-pressures, is stressful enough without having to battle for the basics. Trimming costs to save a few quid on toilets and sanitation etc. is a false economy. Likewise, working conditions must be as clean, dry, warm and safe as possible. Poor conditions ultimately have a knock on effect on staff morale, which in turn impacts event customers. It’s quite simple really, look after your staff and in turn your customers will benefit, and your event will thrive.
Some scary statistics
We have heard of other crew working over 15 hour shifts in glaring heat or incessant rain without suitable PPE (personal protective equipment) or shelter, no water or meal breaks. We have heard of site crew, some responsible for building large on-site structures, working 36 hours without a break. This is downright dangerous – for them as well as for others. Event organisers must start taking a more responsible approach to care for their staff. Good practice comes from the top. One large summer event, at which we work, always makes effort to have good standards of staff care (including good information dissemination) and it makes an enormous difference to staff morale, and so to the service we can give the event customers.
According to statistics published by the HSE, in the year 2016-17, work related stress, depression and anxiety (new or long-standing) affected 526,000 workers in the UK across all areas of employment. Annually, 12.5 million working days are lost due to these stress related conditions. Stress causes the immune system to work inefficiently so people are more prone to illness; it causes problems in concentration and memory, leading to accidents – fatalities even (144 in 2015-16). People under stress are more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms and this too has risks for the individual and those with whom he or she works.
Let’s try and put this into perspective for the event industry. According to Eventbrite, the event industry is a growing one and supports the equivalent of 570,000 full time jobs. If we extrapolate figures drawn from various sources that one in eight UK workers are suffering deleteriously from stress, then that puts the figure at 71,250 in the event industry alone. These figures are merely a guide of course, as we also know that shift work and temporary contracts are high stress jobs, so the figures could be much higher.
If you or your staff are suffering from stress, perhaps following a critical incident, or even just due to long hours away from home and family, then a recent initiative to set up mental health and addiction support is very welcome. Discussing stress and mental health problems should not be taboo. Cultivating an environment of open discussion will benefit everyone in your workplace and could even prevent accidents and long-term sickness. Contact Music Support for more information (www.musicsupport.org).
Times are changing, and for the better. A new ‘staff welfare’ addition to the Purple Guide is on the way, which is very good news. We still have a way to go, but good safety procedures and protocols benefit everyone, from the event organisers down to the customers. Let’s all try and do our bit!
About the Author
Corinne Lane is the senior co-ordinator of National Event Welfare Service (NEWS), which is a not-for-profit organisation staffed by volunteers drawn from diverse professional and social care backgrounds. NEWS has been providing welfare support to events large and small across the UK since 1995.
Corinne is a qualified and highly experienced psychotherapist and trauma counsellor, although now retired from private practice and focussing solely on her event work. She has over 30 years’ experience in the event industry. www.eventwelfare.co.uk