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Corporate event health & safety 101

In an age of blame, how much responsibility do you actually have?

GMG Heatlh & Safety.jpeg

The role of Health and Safety (H&S) within the event environment isn't a difficult one to understand – across most aspects we do things that may be more hazardous than in a more traditional work environment so we need to be aware of and manage those hazards. The biggest players (think festivals, exhibitions, international venues) on the whole have enough resources to take a proactive approach to H&S. Further down the line this doesn't always seem to be the case so where is it that responsibilities actually sit? And what do you actually need to know as an event organiser, production company, venue or freelance technician? The aim of this article is to remove some misconceptions and help you develop an informed approach to your own H&S responsibilities as well as of those who work around you.

First some background – we've all heard of the
Health and Safety at Work etc Act (HASAWA). It was written in 1974 and is generally regarded as a good piece of law – outlining that employers have a duty of care to their employees and the public; also that employees have a responsibility to work safely for themselves and those around them. It requires good management and common sense but only so far as things are reasonably practicable. It also outlines that when it comes to H&S procedures and responsibilities the burden of proof is reversed – i.e. You have to prove that you did everything you could have reasonably been expected to. This is in contrast to the more traditional "innocent until proven guilty" approach seen elsewhere in UK law.

As a venue, organiser or contractor do you have enough evidence that you take a proactive approach to health and safety for those in your charge and around you? If something goes wrong then you might wish that you had!

The other primary piece of legislation is the
Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR) which build on the HASAWA and outline more explicitly what employers are required to do. The main requirement to note here is that employers must carry out a risk assessment.

That's right – a risk assessment is a legal requirement. If you're involved in any type of hazardous work then your employer must have produced a relevant and specific risk assessment. For the events world then, unloading a truck, working at height or using 3-phase power are all potentially hazardous. This is a key point – if someone gets injured and a risk assessment doesn't exist then the employer is automatically in breach of H&S law.

With that reversed burden of proof from HASAWA, as a venue, organiser or contractor can you afford to not have risk assessments to hand?
Can your legal team afford for you not to?

So far, so simple. You try to work safely, follow the regulations and guidance, have risk assessments and method statements to hand. You're bulletproof in a courtroom, right? And you're the organiser anyway so it's your subcontractors who have to do all of the dangerous stuff, right? And they're not employed within your organisation so can sort their own policy out.

Actually it's not that simple – without an organiser then there would be no event. So why would the caterers or AV team or security staff be there at all? Of course they wouldn't and this is why it's crucial as an organiser to be sure that your contractors also adopt your standards.

If the lighting guy fell from a ladder, who are The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) going to come straight to?

Yes, they'll talk to the lighting company. But ultimately, the lighting company isn't responsible for the final budget nor the working schedule or equipment access routes. The organiser might not be expecting it but they're likely to be top of the list when it comes to finger-pointing. Unless of course they have (and can show that they follow) their own best practices and can account for the actions of their subcontractors.

So far I've not written about anything new or scary. The scenarios, content and examples have been in law for over 15 years so shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who has held any responsible position within the events industry.

BUT new and scary is just around the corner! The HSE dropped a bombshell a few weeks ago when they announced that
CDM Regulations will be enforced on the events and entertainment industry from 2015.

For those not in the loop – CDM (Construction, Design and Management Regulations) are a piece of H&S law that currently apply to construction sites. So far the HSE have chosen not to enforce it upon the events and entertainment industry but they've simplified it and now decided that it will be made to fit. CDM 2015 could be applied to every event imaginable including theatre, film, weddings, conferences, awards, exhibitions, product launches, social occasions and within every conceivable event environment. Another part of the regulations still to be described is how the key management roles will transfer into our industry. Venues might come out well but organisers may pick up even more responsibility. Further guidance from the HSE is due in early 2015 and can't really come soon enough.

Hopefully this will become clearer as we head towards April but one thing's for sure, if you take a positive approach to H&S within the event industry now then you've probably a bit more responsibility to contend with by this time next year. If, however, you view H&S as a "nice to have" or only focus on it when it's requested then you're going to make yourself a very easy target for the HSE to visit – and remember that they have more powers than the police and will be charging you £124 per hour the moment they find anything wrong…

It may not be top of the list for 2015 just yet, but if we can offer a single piece of advice it's that everyone within the UK events industry needs to get their H&S plans organised and in place prior to April based on the current tried and tested regulations; and be ready for the CDM2015 amendments which are only going to make requirements for planning and documentation more stringent than is already the case. Keep an eye on the industry press – this is going to be a hot topic for the next 18 months and will likely affect all corners of the events world.

For more information contact John Gibson on:
T: +44 (0) 20 3713 0032

NOTE: Since writing this article new draft CDM 2015 guidelines have been released which are currently being reviewed.