As an event organiser, you have a duty of care – to both your attendees and your staff. The larger your event, the more important it is to be on top of all health and safety issues, but even for small events it should still be a consideration.
This means taking reasonable steps to prevent harm coming to anyone involved in your event and forward planning in case of any emergency situations that could arise. Conducting a risk assessment might seem like a daunting prospect, but it doesn’t have to be a big, bureaucratic process – it’s ultimately about being conscientious and applying common sense.
Follow this guide to identify potential hazards in your event and take the necessary steps to protect yourself and others.
Assess the suitability of your venue
Start with a written profile of your event, including all the activities that will take place and the estimated audience size and demographics (i.e. children, the elderly or disabled will have different needs). With this in mind, visit your event venue to assess its suitability.
Factors you need to consider are:
- Capacity – can your attendees be safely accommodated inside the venue? Will they be standing or seated? Is there room to circulate? Are there pinch points where overcrowding could occur?
- Access – is there sufficient access to the event site/venue for pedestrians and vehicles? Are people with disabilities, wheelchairs or pushchairs able to access the venue? Are there enough emergency exits?
- Hazards – does the site have any existing hazards, such as overhead electric powerlines or buried services that your structures could interfere with? Is it prone to flooding or high winds? Consider ground conditions and topography when positioning any temporary structures.
- Facilities – how far away are the nearest hospital and fire station? What are the public transport links like? Consider the infrastructure you need for your event.
Once you have confirmed the suitability of your venue, draft a site plan indicating where the structures, facilities, fencing lines, entrances, and exits will be. Make the plan available to all contractors, suppliers, and staff working on the event.
Carry out a risk assessment
Now you need to think about any risks to safety that might be present at your event and rate their risk level. Use a scale from 1-5, with 1 presenting a negligible risk and 5 presenting a very severe risk.
Hazards that should be considered include:
- Trip or equipment hazards – are there any cables or guy ropes that people could trip over? Is there glass people could bump into? Could people come into contact with generators or other electrical equipment? Is there equipment that could get wet?
- Crowd management hazards – could crushing/overcrowding occur? How would aggressive/drunken behavior be handled? Could people be at risk around roads or car parks?
- Crew hazards – how will you protect those working for you from lifting and carrying injuries?
- First aid hazards – could people become injured through the activities of your event? What injuries could occur? Could runners suffer heat exhaustion in high temperatures? What would happen if an attendee suffered a heart attack?
- Weather hazards – could the ground become slippery when wet? Could the wind pose a risk to the stability of your structures? Could equipment get wet or become overheated?
- Environmental hazards – could event activities damage the venue or site? Could rubbish pose a risk to wildlife? Could contamination occur from any spillages?
- Fire hazards – how will you control smoking in the venue or onsite? Could campers use barbeques or stoves? Could an electrical fire occur? Are there fire extinguishers?
- Catering hazards – could ovens or hot water urns cause a risk? How will food allergies be handled? Are the containers for hot food and drink suitable?
- Child protection hazards – is there a risk of children becoming lost? Could there be allegations of abuse or neglect – do staff need Garda vetting?
Write down all possible risks and who is at risk – be it attendees, crew, members of the public, or the venue itself. Then write down how you will mitigate and manage each risk. This does not need to mean reams of paperwork, just note the basic measures, such as having a first-aider on-site and accident report book. Place extra focus on your most severe risks, which must be prioritised and timetabled to reduce risk to an acceptable level.
The law does not expect you to be able to anticipate unforeseeable risks, but it’s worth collaborating with your team for the risk assessment, as they may notice things that are not obvious to you.
You should also work closely with your event suppliers, such as caterers, marquee and AV companies, asking to see their own risk assessments and method statements so you can mitigate risk together. Where appropriate, you should also involve the local authority and emergency services.
Create an emergency plan
It’s important to plan for any situations that will require urgent action. This could be anything from a fire to a stage collapsing or a terrorist incident. Even bad weather could create an emergency situation.
Develop emergency procedures to be followed by anyone working on the event and discuss your plans with the venue management. For larger events and/or those not in a fixed venue, include police, fire and rescue service and the ambulance service in your consultation.
Aspects to consider when developing procedures include:
- Raising the alarm – how will you communicate the emergency with staff and volunteers?
- Informing the public – do you have an adequate public address system? What is the procedure for stopping (and restarting) the show?
- Onsite emergency response – are there fire extinguishers? Do you need security staff?
- Summoning and liaising with the emergency services – who will be your point of contact and how will you assist the emergency services?
- Crowd management, including evacuation – how will you move people away from immediate danger to a place of safety? Don’t forget to take people with limited mobility and children into consideration.
- Traffic management – how will emergency vehicles gain access to the site? How will vehicles leave the site in the event of an emergency?
- Providing first aid – are their sufficient medical provisions?
- Handling casualties – how will patients be taken to a hospital? Will there be ambulances onsite?
Testing and validation of your emergency plan can take the form of a tabletop exercise. You and your appointed team members should work through a range of scenarios and establish the effectiveness of your responses.
Implementing health and safety
As the event organiser, you are responsible for managing your staff, suppliers, and attendees to ensure they are not exposed to risk at all the different phases of the event, from set-up to break down.
Provide staff with relevant information during the site induction and ensure suppliers do the same for their employees. This should include information such as site hazards, speed limits and parking, first aid, toilets and wash facilities, and emergency arrangements. You may also want to provide relevant health and safety information to the public in the form of signage and/or a pre-event announcement.
Monitor risks throughout your event by creating a checklist and having a nominated individual/s responsible for checking at regular intervals. A clear and competently implemented paper trail is the best way for event organisers to mitigate risk.
Health and safety at smaller events in designated venues can often be addressed very quickly working with the venue management. For more info on how to ensure your venue is event-ready, check out our Ultimate Venue Checklist.