Will your team, your contractors and your venue be ‘match fit’ when events begin to open in the Autumn?

At the end of the first day of a recent outdoor event, I sat down with the event operations manager who complained of being no longer ‘match fit’. She had a good point. If you have spent the last few months in Zoom meetings, even if you have kept up your general fitness, you are likely to rediscover that there is nothing quite so physically gruelling as a day on the event floor.

But tired feet is likely to be the least of our concerns.

As we approach the point where more and more events are scheduled to run it raises the important issue regarding ensuring that the venue and the event team are match fit as far as health and safety is concerned. Imagine for a moment that the Pandemic is declared defeated today and all of lockdown lifted. Who would be trooping through your office lobby on Monday morning and would they really be ready to go back to work?

One of the most distressing aspects of this pandemic is the roll call of experienced event operations staff who have been made redundant. They have taken with them a vast collective knowledge on event safety. Added to that loss of knowledge will be the skill fade suffered by those furloughed over the last six months or more. Some on line training has been possible but that is no substitute for the real thing or for day to day exposure to live events. Of course event staff are not going to have forgotten how to do a risk assessment in just a few months but we are all likely to be a bit rusty and it stands to reason that event teams are going to have to take extra care with safety planning to ensure that vital details are not over-looked.

Teams are also going to have to consider that this loss of competence is going to apply to the whole economic chain particularly with sub-contractors. Decades of valuable event experience and with it safety experience has been lost to the industry in the last few months which will not be easily or quickly replaced. Some of those made redundant are already forming themselves into collectives on social media, such as LindkedIn, so they are not entirely lost to the industry. Hopefully event organisers and contractors will be able to recruit from this pool even if it is only on a freelance basis for each event.

The start of event safety planning is a risk assessment.

For many events the assessment will have been done prior to the event being cancelled or postponed. This does not mean that it can simply be dusted off and the date changed. For example an event due to run in June would have enjoyed 18 hours of daylight and normally good weather which is going to be fundamentally different if it is now run in October. Vehicles accustomed to arriving and leaving in daylight will now do so in darkness. Event risk assessments need to be thoroughly reviewed before they are signed off for the event to ensure that any significant changes have been factored in.

Venues will not be able to simply walk back in, switch on the lights and carry on from where they left off in March.

Event venues are highly complex working environments with equipment and infrastructure that needs regular maintenance and inspection. Not least this applies to any load bearing equipment such as rigging points.

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that the venues and hotels that the event sector normally uses will have been non-operational for months in many cases during increasingly warm weather. This creates the perfect conditions for Legionella bacteria in dormant water systems to multiply to dangerous levels with potentially fatal consequences if checks and controls are not put into place before these facilities are recommissioned back into use.

In the UK and other highly regulated countries it should be inconceivable that a responsible venue will not keep up with the requirement for statutory safety inspections. However, where it is not required by law, and in venues that are struggling financially it is quite possible that safety critical maintenance and inspection has lapsed. Organisers need to make doubly sure that their venue remains fit for purpose particularly with regard to fire safety infrastructure. These topics were covered in detail in our April 4 and 5 updates.

As pointed out in previous updates, terrorists and the criminal fraternity have not been on furlough and their lack of high profile activities recently only reflects ours. It may be assumed that they will resume hostilities when we return to running events. The events industry normally operates in a state of constant watchfulness but during the lockdown understandably we have taken our eye off the ball. Security plans and arrangements for events need to be reviewed and restored. The increased activities for bio security, health screening and management of queues at entrances may help initially but we must not allow this to distract us from wider security management.

Prior to the pandemic there was a growing recognition in the events industry that the stresses placed on event staff were unsustainable in the long term and urgent action was need to address what was recognised as an industry wide problem. It would be tempting to think that, placed on furlough, event staff have had time to relax in the sun, reflect and renew so the problem has receded. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality for many has not been a relaxing gardening leave but a struggle to carry on working from home, often doing the work of two or three as redundancies reduced the head count. Added to that has been the worry and stress of working in an industry that has a genuinely existential fight on its hands to stay in business with a steady trickle of the bad news of event firms going under or more redundancies. Many will be impacted by job losses and other stresses in their close family.

If we lifted lockdown today and all went back to work on Monday, after the initial delight in seeing friends and colleagues again, the next few hours and days would surely reveal the reality of a depleted and dispirited crew some of whom will be wary and unsure of themselves or the future. Event business managers are going to have to show real leadership in reassuring and motivating their teams on return to work. Skills gaps need to be identified and filled through retraining and recruitment or engagement of sub contractors. With a significant amount of the event budget directed to bio security controls this must not detract from other critical health, safety and security arrangements. Venue and contractors will have to demonstrate that they are ready to take on events again. In the long term event businesses will have to recognise that although event staff will feel lucky to have retained their jobs and will be disinclined to complain about the pressures and discomforts created by tight budgets, the welfare of staff must still be a priority. Afterall we need event managers who are at the top of their game to rebuild a safe and sustainable events industry post pandemic.

The views and opinions expressed in these blogs are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ESSA, its members, board or staff. Our members represent a broad range of views within the event industry, and we have provided this section of the website for their opinions to be openly heard and discussed.

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