H&S: Finding common ground

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A common sense approach to health and safety is needed if legislation is to be taken seriously…

In his foreword to Lord Young’s review of health and safety legislation, David Cameron suggests that all straightforward legislation designed to protect people from major hazards has been extended inappropriately to cover every walk of life. As a result, instead of being valued, the standing of health and safety in the eyes of the public has never been lower.

The reporting of “absurd examples of senseless bureaucracy” mars the professionalism of others, and merely feeds a breeding ground for compensation, he suggests, and as a result, it is hoped that common sense will be put back into health and safety.

The Prime Minister has agreed to implement Lord Young’s recommendations, focusing upon regulation where it is most needed. From an event’s perspective, whilst the review recommends the use of health and safety consultants that are only listed on a soon-to-be-launched web-based directory, it largely concentrates on local authorities and the role they play when allowing events to take place in their area.

Lord Young makes the following recommendations:

• Officials who ban events on health and safety grounds should put their reasons in writing;

• Enable citizens to have a route for redress where they want to challenge local officials’ decisions. Local authorities will conduct an internal review of all refusals on the grounds of health and safety; and

• Citizens should be able to refer unfair decisions to the Ombudsman, and a fast track process should be implemented to ensure that decisions can be overturned within two weeks. If appropriate, the Ombudsman may award damages where it is not possible to reinstate an event. If the Ombudsman’s role requires further strengthening, then legislation should be considered.

Young’s first recommendation would undoubtedly cause many to quip: “Well, surely that’s a given.” Yet, it’s not.

When Stand Out is informed of a festival or outdoor event that has been cancelled, nine times out of ten lack of thought towards stewarding and crowd management is cited as the main reason for not granting the license. The organiser then blames the licensing authority for the cancellation, however some fail to consider that it may be more of a case that the organiser cannot afford escalating security costs.

Local authority events run by a private company are governed by the local authority health and safety inspectorate, yet local authority events, which are run by an in-house local authority events team, are open to inspection from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Some events professionals have, therefore, stated that the HSE has less understanding of the trials that come to light on-site, so should we pose the question: Are events run by local authorities less safe than community/local events organised by private companies?

Steve Kearney, principal consultant of Gallowglass Health and Safety, comments: “Not usually, but events that are organised by private companies that don’t involve either in-house or external health and safety advisers always carry a higher risk factor.

Consultants can offer services that may seem laborious and time consuming to organisers, but they have the added advantage of being able to see the bigger picture from an objective viewpoint.

“I have frequently picked up on some fairly obvious hazards when events were at the planning stage – which, unchecked, might have had serious repercussions for the whole event. The fact that these were spotted early-on meant that the risks could be mitigated or even eliminated.”

Simon James, director of The Event Safety Shop (TESS), suggests that by in large the above comes down to budget.

Safety in numbers

As Stand Out writes, industry is collaborating. An agreement has been reached between the Health & Safety Executive(HSE) and industry  to revise and republish  the much used Purple Guide (The Event Safety Guide – A Guide to Health, Safety & Welfare at Music and Similar Events).

The new revised guide will have a greater focus on risk assessment and management of health and safety.  It will clearly set out the health & safety duties of all those involved in putting on events to ensure the wellbeing of employees, contractors and the public. The revision will also provide an opportunity to improve the existing format by the addition of case studies, practical information on risk management.

Both Chris Hannam, director of Stagesafe and James are involved the guide’s revision.

“The purple guide is being revised and the HSE have formed all the working chapter groups of which most of them have made contact and are in various stages of compiling their relevant chapters. The time line is identified to hopefully release the new version at the beginning of 2012. This gives most of 2011 for writing, comment and editing.”

The recent Outstanding Seminars at the Showman’s Show addressed the guide’s revision, the use of volunteers on-site and also whether free public events pose a greater health and safety risk?

“Public and free events do not pose a greater health and safety risk provided that suitable and sufficient facilities including crowd management and risk assessment are provided for the expected numbers to attend,” argued Hannam. “It is therefore vital that event organisers know how many are expected to attend and that numbers are not exceeded. This may mean the issue of tickets to attendees even if they are provided free of charge. It has to be ensured that local authorities do not take advantage of their position and that licensing and enforcement is in the hands of an independent authority such as the HSE and not the local authority.

But James suggests that free events pose a greater planning issue.

“The basic health and safety risks are the same it’s just that it is more difficult to plan for something when you don’t know how many people are coming. You have to plan and make provision for space, stewards, security, welfare etc, to ensure any event is safe. The difficult issue with a free event is how many or how much of these do you need?

“There have obviously been some bad examples in the last few years of people totally underestimating the number of people turning up at their event but fundamentally free public events pose no more of a risk. There are examples of very safely run free public events around the UK, but these all share the same health and safety principles of being well planned. Finally what they all share is that although they may be free to the public, they most certainly will not be free to produce.”

REM managing director, Mike Richmond said of the health and safety seminar: “It was useful to hear industry leaders talk about the methods of control and management for free public events. People are rightfully concerned, but it was reassuring that the consensus of opinion was that with good planning and management procedures the issues that have attracted negative publicity at some free events this year could be managed and avoided.

“It is difficult to apply some areas of legislation to free events so it requires experienced event professionals to instigate best working practices.

“The issue was raised by one member of the audience about not wrapping people up in ‘cotton wool’, but that’s just the events industry keeping up with the litigious society we live in.

“It’s encouraging to see that health and safety is central on peoples agenda and that the experts in this field are not looking to stifle creativity, but enable creative events to happen safely.”