Selecting a reputable marquee hire company with advice from MUTA, the UK’s only trade association dedicated to marquees, tents and structures
The best contractor/hirer of marquees, tents or other temporary structures (known collectively as temporary demountable structures or TDS) will keep your stress levels low and be a delight to work with, whether you are organising a private or a public event. The worst ones will make the whole process a nightmare.
So how can you safeguard against choosing the wrong supplier? We have put together some pointers in our Guide to Choosing a Hirer, which is available to download at the MUTA website. We will go through some of the key considerations here to help you find a company that will give your event the best chance of success.
What is not always obvious to a private customer is the nature of the marquee and tent hire industry. While there are many excellent companies, there are also some very poor ones. There are a lot of hirers that come and go; companies that start up, ‘have a go’ and then disappear. It’s not easy to be a quality hirer, and not something you can learn overnight. Think about the following points when making your selection.
Experience and track record
Look at how long the hirer has been trading. Most of the unprofessional companies won’t survive more than a few years. MUTA members have to be trading for two years before being admitted and have to pass a credit check, so asking to see the hirer’s current MUTA membership certificate is a good start.
Does the hirer have a good track record? Is there evidence of recent customer thank you letters, testimonials or references? Will they let you talk to a previous customer? Have they won any awards?
Range of services
Apart from erecting the marquee or tent, there’s a lot to do to make an event happen, from flooring and staging to lighting and heating, the list goes on. Good hirers will be able to take on as much or as little of the supply of these items as you wish, acting as a one-stop shop if that is what you require.
If something goes wrong while the event is happening, what arrangements are in place? Will you have staff from the hirer on-site during the event? If not, is there an emergency contact number, and how fast can you expect a response? Good hirers will be able to offer both options.
Coping with problems
Problems happen in hire businesses all the time; staff go off sick, vehicles break down and equipment gets damaged. Good hire businesses solve these problems without their customers ever being aware. They have additional staff they can call on, arrangements in place to cope with broken down vehicles and spare equipment to hand. Ask your hirer about the contingency arrangements they have in place to cope when things go wrong.
Compare prices, of course, but understand that good hirers with contingency tents, contingency staff and contingency vehicles have additional costs compared with the companies that have ‘just enough’. You can expect to pay a bit more to know that there are measures in place to ensure your event is not left high and dry. So the message is to look for good overall value and not simply the lowest price.
Good hirers will insist on signing a contract with you and won’t take cash payments to avoid VAT (that’s illegal). The contract gives you and the hirer confidence because you both know exactly what you have agreed. The contract doesn’t need to be long or difficult, it is often just a booking form with a set of terms and conditions of hire.
It’s worth being suspicious of companies offering big discounts in return for large deposits paid a long way before the event. It could be a sign that they are struggling to survive, raising the possibility that they won’t be around by the time your event arrives.
With organisers of public events having a duty of care to both the people involved in erecting structures for the event, and members of the public who attend, it’s crucial to choose a competent contractor. Asking your contractor the questions below should help you to understand if they are really up to the job.
Size of company
Is the contractor easily able to cope with the needs of your event, in addition to other events they will be handling at the same time? How much ‘tentage’ do they have available? How many staff do they have?
How long has the contractor been trading, and do they have the financial standing to cope with your event? Is their financial history stable?
How many similar size events has the contractor handled, and over how many years? Can you speak to previous customers to obtain references?
Is the contractor able to supply health and safety advice? Do they have account managers, logistics managers, the capability to prepare drawings and the like?
Prior to the event, is the contractor able to readily provide:
- a health and safety policy
- a construction phase plan if required under Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM)
- risk assessments
- method statements
- training records
- proof of public liability insurance
- structural calculations
- fire certificates
- a current MUTA membership certificate
- itemised quotations with contract terms.
Range and type of equipment
Most public events require a wide range of equipment from very small to very large structures. Does the contractor have the appropriate range of equipment and is it fit for purpose? Do they have the appropriate fire and structural documentation?
Does the contractor have additional equipment, staff and transport available for last minute additions or amendments or emergency situations?
Latest health and safety
Does the contractor have knowledge and understanding of the latest health and safety requirements and guidance? MUTA’s Best Practice Guide encompasses the very latest health and safety legislation.
Organisers of public events have a responsibility and duty of care to ensure that all of their contractors are competent. How will your contractor demonstrate that they are competent? This could be evidenced by membership of a nationally recognised trade association such as MUTA.
Organisers of public events have a duty of care to ensure that all the contractors involved have adequate and appropriately trained staff. Examples of appropriate qualifications include MUTA’s Structure Safe course or a foreman’s NVQ qualification. Is the contractor able to supply evidence of the training that its staff have received?
What arrangements are in place for standby staff should a structure need attention during the event?
Is there an emergency out of hours contact number and agreed response time? Does the contractor have the wherewithal to monitor and respond quickly to extreme or changing weather conditions?
Organisers of public events are paying increasing attention to sustainability in relation to the organisation and the running of their shows and events. Sustainability is the balance between the environment, the social (employees) and the economic considerations that drive business and their connected events. Internationally recognised accreditations such as ISO 14001 and ISO 20121 are the highest level of competency, but self-evidence schemes are also acceptable.
ERECTION, USE AND DISMANTLING
The failure of any marquee, tent or structure, no matter how small, could have a devastating effect at an event. The safe erection, use and dismantling of a TDS are important parts of event planning.
Erection and dismantling
The Enforcing Authority Regulations 1998 determine whether it is the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or the local authority that is responsible for enforcing the erection and dismantling of TDS. In most cases, local authorities will enforce on all matters to do with the use of completed TDS, unless it is in use at a local authority event, in which case HSE will be the enforcing authority.
Please note, even though there is a division of enforcement responsibility, expect all health and safety inspectors to challenge unsafe work activity, regardless of when it is happening. The requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 apply to the erection, use and dismantling of a TDS, as do the requirements of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015).
Depending on the type of structure, its use and the erecting process employed, the requirements of the following sets of regulations may apply:
- Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992
- Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992
- Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998
- Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998
- Work at Height Regulations 2005
- Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992
- Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.
As an organiser, it is important that a prospective contractor can:
- demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the work and the health and safety hazards involved
- provide evidence of the competence of key staff for the project and trained workforce. Crew undertaking specialist roles, such as rigging, should be able to prove that they have the appropriate competencies
- confirm they have sufficient resources to undertake the work
- provide evidence of previous successful work, which shows they can adopt and develop safe systems of working
- demonstrate an appropriate level of technical ability, in the absence of experience of previous work.
Ensure that whoever erects the structure (in most cases the TDS contractor) undertakes an assessment of the likely hazards and risks for erecting and dismantling. This may require the TDS contractor to obtain specialist assistance. Key erecting and dismantling hazards may include:
- working at height
- manual handling
- slips and trips
- electricity and fire
- loading and unloading operations
- lifting operations
- use of machinery and tools
- local activities.
The findings of this risk assessment should serve as guidance on how to safely erect and dismantle the structure on-site. The risk assessment could be in the form of suitably clear plans and drawings and/or photos that identify the sequence of safe erecting (and plan for the safe dismantling of the structure).
Before work starts, contractors should inform the event organiser of any significant health and safety issues or requirements that may occur during the erecting, use of and dismantling of the structure. An example of this would be the use of cranes or forklift trucks. In this way, the event organiser can plan and work with the TDS contractors to develop safe systems of working and ensure all significant risks on the site are properly controlled.
Work to create good co-operation and co-ordination among those involved in erecting and dismantling a structure. This requires effective communication at all levels. Plan to minimise confusion and conflict, particularly between those contractors carrying out concurrent or consecutive activities on the same structure or in the locality.
Once the TDS is erected, operational risks must be managed to ensure safety at all times, for example any risks associated with overcrowding. Consider any operational limits on the structure in the event management safety plan.
In any organiser/TDS contractor relationship, both parties will have duties under health and safety law. However, a key factor to consider will be the extent of control that each party has over the work activity and workplace during each phase of the erect, use and dismantling cycle of a structure. Organisers and TDS contractors should agree on the extent of their control at the planning stage, so that responsibility for structural safety is understood and maintained throughout the event.
Almost all TDS used outdoors are susceptible to the effects of constantly changing climatic conditions and so appropriate management systems should be in place to:
- monitor and measure local weather conditions
- define and deliver a plan to deal with variable loading conditions that can affect the structure and exceed the safe working parameters of the structure, for example, changing ground conditions due to prolonged rain can significantly affect the resistance offered by ground anchorages (the ground conditions and anchorages may need reassessment by specialists)
One of the greatest hazards to marquees and tents is the wind. Most of these structures are designed to be safe for use in wind up to a certain speed. The event organiser and contractor should be clear on the value of this wind speed and the wind management plan required, ensuring the stability of the TDS at all times.
Agree on a suitable system of maintenance and inspection with the TDS contractor. Depending on the type of event and the time of year, the contractor may provide a standby service for structural matters on-site or just an emergency call out service. If a contractor provides an organiser with a checklist to follow, it must be comprehensive. For example, it is unsatisfactory for a contractor to simply say “check the cable tension” without stating exactly what to look for and what to do about it if it is incorrect.
Safeguard yourself with a MUTA member
Actually it is better to look at this from the other direction. If a hirer or contractor you are intending to use is not a MUTA member, then why not? MUTA is only interested in having the best companies as members. Members sign a Code of Practice requiring them to be legal, decent, honest and truthful. They are obliged to provide a professional standard of workmanship, to check all their own work, and to maintain public liability insurance of at least £1m.
They must follow MUTA’s industry leading Best Practice Guide and submit themselves to independent inspection to ensure that they do. Members who fail their inspection are required to make immediate improvements; failure to do so results in expulsion.
If something goes wrong, MUTA members must promptly, efficiently and courteously investigate any complaint. If that process fails, customers can complain directly to MUTA. If MUTA upholds the complaint, members must take the required action or be expelled. So don’t take a risk, use a MUTA member and give your event the best chance of success.
www.muta.org.uk / 01379 788673