All’s fair in love and… build

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An exhibition hall is a pressurised environment. Organisers should not forget the basics, says Lee Holloway, managing partner of Fallowfield Partnership…

Take the safety and operational planning requirements behind a shop refit and then multiply that by about 200 projects, all happening in close proximity to each other, run by separate contractors, and up against a two or three-day deadline. Here, you have the organised chaos that is exhibition build-up!

But how do you manage the complexities that are multiple stand build projects? Lianne Lisle, former operations director as SMS Group Ltd is now owner of Event Support Solutions. She started working in the industry over 16 years ago, and has worked on a broad mix of the larger trade and consumer exhibitions including the Motor Show, Commercial Vehicle Show, Clothes Show and the Wine Fair.

“An organiser should encourage exhibitors to appoint bona fide contractors, many show manuals now recommend that only ESSA members are selected,” she explained. “Then, all space-only stand plans and safety paperwork should be chased.  These then need checking against the organiser’s commercial regulations, such as build height, practicalities such as orientation, and venue rules such as platforms.  Also checked is whether a stand will be considered ‘complex’ by the venue, for example exceeding four metres in height. In these cases, a qualified engineer needs to be consulted.”

Yet as organisers and health and safety advisers know only too well, stand builders can respond negatively to what they feel are nitpicking rules and regulations.

Continues Lisle:  “The trick is firstly to separate out which non-compliances you will withhold ‘permission to build’ for and which ones you will simply advise the stand builder to address on-site. Next, you must ensure all stand builders receive the same treatment.”

As Lisle explains, when the perception of a level playing field breaks down this is when most on-site disputes arise. It’s no good having a box of compliant stand plans if contractors are building something completely different in the halls. It’s, therefore, vital to patrol the site with a list of the main regulations and check for non-compliance.