Power is Everything

Event safety expert Chris Hannam outlines an organiser’s duty of care when it comes to powering their event

One area often overlooked by inexperienced event planners is a safe and reliable electricity supply. As a Duty Holder it is your legal duty to ensure the electrical system at your event is safe and fit for purpose.

The introduction to the Memorandum of Guidance on the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 states: “A little knowledge is often sufficient to make electrical equipment function but a much higher level of knowledge and experience is usually needed to ensure safety.” It is a statement well worth remembering.

Careful consideration is required on what power you’re going to need and where it’s going to come from. Of course, you may be lucky and have vast quantities of mains electricity available on your site that you can tap into but this is usually not the case and so generated power will be required.

Power supply
Pic: Getty Images

The legal bits
This may be a daunting prospect for those unfamiliar with the requirements of generated supplies so we will look at the legal requirements first. Mains supplies must be installed to meet the requirements of BS 7671 (AKA The IET Wiring Regulations) that sets the standards for electrical installation in the UK. The IET co-publishes the Regulations with the British Standards Institution (BSI) and is the authority on electrical installation. The person installing the mains supply must be a qualified electrician and must provide a certificate of test and installation to confirm the work is safe for use.

Generated supplies are required to meet the requirements of BS 7909: Code of practice for temporary electrical systems for entertainment and related purposes. This is in addition to any relevant parts of BS 7671. Your normal electrician will probably know little or nothing of BS 7909 so it is advised you contact a specialist provider of power for the music and events industry. They can not only provide high quality reliable and silent running generators but also generator refuelling facilities, backup systems, twin synced generators and power distribution services that will keep your show running on a 24 hour basis. Avoid those suppliers who normally provide power and distribution services to construction sites.

After the supply is installed it should be tested by a competent engineer who should then provide you with a BS 7909 test and completion certificate, a copy of which will usually be requested by the Local Authority licensing inspectors on site. Competent engineers include members of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), the Electrical Contractors Association (ECA) and the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting (NICEIC).

Power generator
Pic: Getty Images

Generator positioning
Once you have decided what power is required you will need to work out suitable generator positions. Don’t be fooled into thinking that one big generator is all you need to power the full site, the reality is you need several smaller generators rather than one big set. You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket; if your one big set fails the whole site becomes very quiet and dark.

Try to place things that require power together into groups, for instance a group of catering units or a group of toilets so that one generator can power a whole group of units. You don’t want them separated so one generator is required just to power one hot dog stand, and it’s not safe or practical to lay cables for miles over the site.

Some areas will certainly need a backup power supply. This is usually achieved by using twin synchronised generators so if one fails the other will seamlessly cut in. Areas such as the event control room, communications, entrances, exits, first aid and medical centres are among those that will need back up power. Marquees and other structures will need internal lighting as well as backup emergency lighting and exit signs.

Your generators will also need to be positioned where they can be easily accessed for refuelling or maintenance should there be a breakdown. If they are in a public area then they will need to be fenced off; block and mesh fencing is the favourite for this job, they also need to be as close as possible to where power is required.

To prevent interference, stages should have separate power supplies for audio, lighting and video; lighting dimmer systems can play havoc by causing unwanted noises to your audio system if they are run from the same supply.

Safety matters
Generators for events are always diesel, this is one of the cheapest fuels. Unlike petrol it has a very high flash point and is therefore safer as it is less likely to ignite and cause a fire. Petrol has no place on an event site; you will probably find this to be a Premises License condition.

Never allow any generators on site other than those provided by your temporary power contractor. Allowing catering concessions to provide their own power is asking for trouble; they will almost certainly bring noisy petrol generators that are untested, not earthed and a potential fire hazard.

Some areas of the site, such as car parks, entrances, exits, camping or dark areas, will simply require lighting. Again, your temporary power supplier can usually provide portable tower lights with their own generator that can be easily moved and positioned. Festoon lighting is also an option.

Portable Appliance Testing (PAT)
Claims that Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) is required by law, and that the client is breaking the law by not having it done, are simply not true.

PAT testing is not required by law but is the only recognised system for testing and so may be considered as the only option. Records of testing must be kept and be available for inspection. The law does require however that employers, including the self-employed, ensure that all electrical equipment they provide in their business is safe and properly maintained. This means that PAT testing is a critical part of your event’s health and safety, and should be considered part of a solution to your safety concerns.

All portable appliances (including catering equipment, backline, effects, PA, lasers, lighting, video, projection and hand tools) should undergo PAT testing on a regular basis.

PAT testing provides the most effective way to identify defects that can come with use. Faults in electrical equipment pose a potential hazard, particularly if they are not repaired readily. Even though PAT testing itself is not required by law, the consequences of electrical faults should be considered carefully.

You will need to obtain copies of PAT certification from all contractors and catering concessions before the event; the Local Authority may wish to see them as part of their event safety inspections. Testing appliances to ensure that they are safe to use can contribute to an effective maintenance regime, but in a low-risk environment (indoors) most dangerous defects can be found simply by checking the appliances for obvious signs of damage.

For safety reasons, power tools for use outdoors should be the 110v type or, better still, battery powered.

Most if not all electrical work on site is ‘plug and play’ with no requirement for wiring in. Connectors such as Powerlocs are used on single pole three phase supplies with red Cee Form connectors used on three phase and blue Cee Forms on single phase supplies, there is also a yellow single phase connector for use on 110v single phase supplies.

There are several safety systems built into circuits, the first is the insulation on the cable, next comes the various earthing systems that enable Residual Current Devices (RCD) and Miniature Circuit Breakers (MCB) and finally, competent persons to design and test the system before use.

So there you have the basics of temporary electrical power safety; it’s not for the inexperienced and unqualified. This specialist area is best left to a specialist contractor who can take the headaches away for you at a very competitive price.

Chris Hannam runs Stagesafe, offering health and safety consultancy and training for the live music and event production industries. With over 35 years’ experience he advises event organisers, production and tour managers, promoters, freelancers, service companies and businesses at every level on all H&S documentation, site planning, crowd management, CDM compliance, steward safety training, contractor safety management and more. www.stagesafe.co.uk

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