When the exhibition and event industry fell under the aegis of the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2015, better known to all of us as CDM, exhibitions became the subject of walk-rounds by the HSE, who made some very unwelcome discoveries on their visits to exhibitions.

The HSE observed worrying levels of unsafe working at height. And it wasn’t limited to just a few ‘usual suspects’ - there seemed to be a general misunderstanding about the difference between the actual and perceived risks of working at height, and an overall lack of awareness of what working at height actually means. The HSE expressed its serious concerns, and put the whole industry on notice of a need to drastically improve its practices during the build and breakdown phases of exhibitions.

As an industry, we have now been challenged to improve our safety, and we must react quickly, enthusiastically and pragmatically. Our associations have been quick to respond. The Event Supplier and Services Association (ESSA), the Association of Event Venues (AEV) and the Association of Event Organiser (AEO) launched the Stop The Drop initiative last year with a website and marketing campaign, and the mission now is to spread the word far and wide that working safely at height is a matter that requires urgent action.

The website at www.stop-the-drop.co.uk has everything you need to know about safely working at height, whether you’re an exhibitor, contractor, organiser, venue or designer. With a library of essential guidance documents, arranged conveniently for individual audiences, every stakeholder can download the guides and gain an understanding of not just the HSE’s regulations and guidance, but real practical advice on driving down the risk of working at height at every stage of exhibiting. From designing out risk and when to use a ladder instead of a step, to checking the risks of mobile scaffolding, there’s an extensive library of documentation on how to work safely at a height at exhibitions.

Of course, a campaign is nothing without support, and I’m delighted to say that Stop The Drop has already garnered the endorsement of many suppliers and contractors. We all need to think collaboratively about building a stronger culture of safety, and this campaign is a great opportunity for all stakeholders to stand up and pledge their support directly, adding their name and logo to the list of supporters on the website.

This means calling out unsafe practice when we see it and taking pride in our rigorous observance of safe working practices. It seems, from informal conversations, that there are three main factors contributing to the overall picture highlighted by the HSE. These are the fundamental factors that Stop The Drop is seeking to address directly – firstly that companies do not have the correct equipment to work safely at height, secondly, they have the equipment but are not using it correctly, or thirdly, they have the equipment but they are simply not using it.

The campaign is inviting all of us to contribute ideas, examples and suggestions of how to build a stronger safety culture in our industry, especially helping the campaign identify any gaps in the advice or any new pieces of information. Rather than seeing this warning from the HSE as an obstacle to surmount, I believe we should see it as an opportunity to show how we, as suppliers and contractors, can not only meet the minimum requirements for safe working at height but lead the whole industry towards a culture of safety. I believe a pervasive safety culture is well within our reach and with the help and support of ESSA and its sister associations, the resources available from the HSE and Stop The Drop, and the determination to turn this situation around, we have all the ingredients we need to take the lead on safety and safe working at height. Let’s seize the opportunity!

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