What does ‘industry standard’ really mean, why do we need standards and how can we uphold them, especially when the going gets tough? questions Andrew Harrison, director of the Events Services and Suppliers Association (ESSA)

 Whichever area of the industry you work in, if I was to ask you how trade was, I think I know what the answer would be.


Events have returned with a vengeance, and it seems that everyone wants everything yesterday. While the events boom is good news for a sector which was significantly hampered by restrictions and lockdowns for the past two years, it also presents many challenges.

One such challenge is maintaining high standards when under pressure. Shorter lead times, staffing issues and demanding, albeit well-meaning, clients mean planners may have less time to carry out their usual due diligence on services and suppliers.

Of course, if an event is delivered, there are no hiccups and the client is happy, you might question the need to adhere to high standards but what happens if things go wrong, and you can’t prove competency in the way that legislation would require? Here’s why I think we ALL need to take a standards-led approach to the way we do business.

Why do standards matter?

In my world, there are two types of standards: the minimum legal standards set by enforcement bodies such as the HSE and then our own standards that we set ourselves as individuals and businesses. We might also refer to them as values.

They are intertwined but for the benefit of this article, I am concentrating on legal standards. Standards matter in order to set a benchmark for the expected level of best practise people and companies should work to. They also have a habit of protecting those we work with and for and the general public around us.  In certain scenarios, working to and being able to prove this competency is essential and should never be overlooked.

ESSA members have been on board with this notion for some time and continually discuss how they can drive up standards to ensure that everyone – from their own workforce to the visitors attending an exhibition – is kept safe. This led to ESSA launching ESSA Accredited – an independent annual audit carried out on our supplier and service provider members, which measures them against a stringent criteria of health and safety standards. 

The existence of such a scheme has many benefits: It means that our members instantly buy into raising - and maintaining – standards and it also means that those choosing to work with them feel confident that these businesses care about health and safety which ultimately delivers the best experience for all. Most of all, it provides demonstrable proof of competency, an often misunderstood word in our industry and what it means to all stakeholders and their own legal obligations.

Those signing up as members also know they are judged by the same criteria as other member suppliers, which creates a level playing field.

These benchmarks for businesses also have a broader impact as they help set an industry standard which makes attaining competency easier.  

What is equally as important to attaining certain standards is how other groups in the industry such as exhibitors, organisers and venues themselves assess the competency of those that work for them, on their show floors and within their venues.

Everyone’s responsibility

ESSA Accredited only applies to companies operating in the supplier sector of the industry, however, the truth is that it is the role of venues, organisers, suppliers, exhibitors, trade bodies and our shared customers to ensure that professional standards are upheld, maintained and adhered to.

Indeed, some believe it is just suppliers who face the most scrutiny when it comes to attaining certain standards and being able to prove them, but if we do want to see standards raised across the industry and deliver the best for all our clients, then a similar practice needs to be adopted by the wider industry. But is one reason for a reluctance to do so because it will reveal an industry that is driven too much by price, possibly a can of worms we do not want to open?

Standards matter in every part of the chain so if you believe you are doing the best for your business and your clients, you need to look at how YOU are monitoring standards and competency within your company and consider if your practices meet the minimum legal requirement by asking yourself what standards you are holding yourself - and others - to.

Setting and maintaining standards is not a tick box exercise. Standards only become set and upheld if they are set in the first place and then constantly monitored and questioned. But who is looking after and policing these and do you know your own legal responsibilities within this area, do your clients know? If, as a collective industry, we are to permanently raise standards, it is vital that each one of us knows and understands the standards we should be holding ourselves to. The bottom line is that it’s everyone’s responsibility and the buck needs to stop being passed between us.

At ESSA we provide consultancy and lead and push our members to be the best they can be, with health and safety as the driver. In the past, there were calls from across the industry to raise standards and provide assurance, so we listened and delivered and we continue to monitor and question the standards we set and ensure they work for our members and the wider industry.

Setting and monitoring standards is one thing of course, but how do we uphold those we’ve appointed ourselves and the wider industry especially when times are tough? Holding central records could be one answer.

I believe we need a serious talk as an industry in all these areas. We are a safe industry, an industry full of professionals working relentlessly against the clock to make amazing things happen. But can we answer enough of these tough questions above and if we can’t, does it hold us back? 


Published 25 July 2022 in Meetings & Incentive Travel magazine




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The Event Supplier and Services Association (ESSA) is a trade body representing the very best contractors and suppliers of goods and services to the UK’s thriving events industry.

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