7 safety rules for festivals (while keeping them fun)

SPONSORED: A weekend of hedonism may seem incompatible with risk management, but health and safety planning is essential.

by MT Staff
Last Updated: 05 Jul 2017

Summer’s here. Evenings are drawing out, noses are filling with the smells of barbecues and cut grass, and thousands of people are descending on the nation’s farmland and parks to go wild in small denim shorts and novelty hats.
But festivals are not just a highlight of the summer; they’re big business too. According to Mintel, the live music and festivals market is worth more than £2 billion, a figure that could reach as high as £3.5 billion in 2020. Yet festivals are neither fun nor profitable without the proper risk planning. Just ask the attendees, and the organisers, of this year’s Fyre Festival, a ‘luxury’ event in the Bahamas which invited disaster with its half-baked approach to catering, accommodation and hygiene, and tried to cut costs by supplying half the recommended number of toilets. Festival-goers were left pleading for rescue from the island on social media; the organisers have since been landed with lawsuits.
For the risk teams working behind the scenes, the proper running of a large outdoor event is a serious business. Tim Roberts, director of the Event Safety Shop, is in charge of health and safety for Glastonbury Festival, as well as Leeds, Reading and Womad. Here's how he makes sure people leave the festival on a high, not sending an SOS or suing…

1. Treat it like any risk-management job

There’s no legal loophole that allows you to get away with stuff just because people are having a great time. You still have to do the same risk assessments, auditing for competence and staff training as you would for any site. And moving people around a festival safely isn’t so different from moving goods around a plant.

2. Take care of the basics

It’s very easy to become fixated on the glamorous risks – pyrotechnics, crowd surfing or lasers bringing down planes – but good event production is far more prosaic. It’s essentially about the movement of metals: the steel of construction, the electrical copper, the aluminium of the fencing and roadways; and the movement of fluids: getting water and beer in, and urine and poo away. If you can’t do that, you’re ruined.

3. Challenge your own assumptions

Every location offers a new challenge. Just because something worked well in last year's temporary installation, doesn’t mean this year will be the same. The weather could be completely different, for a start. That has been a perennial issue for us. At one event last year shipping containers were floating away because it had rained so hard for so long.

4. Train temporary staff efficiently

At a major festival you may have tens of thousands of temporary staff, and some will be volunteers working only 10 hours of a long weekend for a free ticket. You have responsibility under legislation to look after them all. If someone is flipping burgers, they don't need to know much beyond where to go, where to park, where to find the first aid and how to call for help. We’re not looking to talk food hygiene – that’s their employer's responsibility. But stewards in the car park need personal protective equipment (PPE) and have to know how to deal with drunks, vehicles reversing, and people asking them where everything is on site. Target the information so it’s relevant to each person without being overwhelming, throw in a few gags to keep them interested, and give them something to take away.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask the stupid question

There are so many things that an organiser has to be competent in, like temporary structures and electrics, crowd mechanics and traffic flows, so if you’re wondering how many people you can get down the B361, ask someone. You’ll find most other people around the table are going: ‘Blimey, I’m glad you asked that.’ But do pick the right safety adviser: just as I wouldn’t begin to talk to someone about running a chemical plant, many won’t know anything about events. It’s not just about the qualification; it’s the competence, experience and professional judgement.

6. Plan for the worst

Recent events have shown the potential is always there for a terror attack, and even bands are now coming to us to discuss what they should do. There aren’t armed units just waiting to deploy in a field, so we need to stare into the dark heart of the beast and say what we would do for the first 20 minutes of an unfolding incident, before the police take control. You need to establish how you communicate with staff and the public in a rapidly emerging crisis. It needs a proportionate and balanced response. Be alert, not alarmed.

7. Find a way to say yes

Our role as safety advisers isn’t to say no, but to ask how we can allow creative people to achieve their objective, whether that’s getting a bunch of kids up on stage or having elephants juggling fire clubs. It’s very easy to tell people they’re non-compliant; it’s more challenging to find a solution that allows folk to keep having fun safely.

For more ideas on how to build bulletproof health and safety, visit the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health

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