Andrew Harrison warns that the past two years have magnified the pressures already faced by suppliers and calls all sides of the industry to work together to make healthier working environments for all. 

As an association the Event Suppliers and Services Association has been working on a set of benchmarks so great suppliers can demonstrate their health and safety credential. ESSA Accredited is company level accreditation, with a focus on health and safety. 

But it goes further the trade association’s director Andrew Harrison says, covering insurance, training, certifications and more as well as training courses
for members. 

He says it is a great starting point for businesses to prove their credentials– but that the suppliers side of the industry is under mounting pressure and standards will inevitably fall if they are stretched further. 

One of the biggest causes of lapses in good practice comes down to missed opportunities in communication. 

He says: “Delays in pertinent information within our industry can be a real inhibitor to what I would call ‘the best we can be’. Lost opportunities for communication between all stake holder groups.  At the end game we’re basically a building site, and with every missed opportunity or delay in communication in the lead up to this, leads to greater pressure and delays when we can least afford it.  If we think this isn’t felt by our shared client, we’re not listening. 

“It can lead to issues with regards to build-up and break down and designing projects, it can impact upon costs, which ultimately get filtered through the system.

“Contractors can be put under huge amounts of pressure in order to deliver on behalf of their clients within the constraints which have been allowed within the tenancy times. The knock-on effect of that is, we’re then having to work even harder to maintain safe environments for people to work in. 

“The contraction of postponed events into even tighter timeslots plus inflation, price rises and supply chain issues has “put everything under the magnifying glass,” Harrisson says. 

The last 12 months has been “unprecedented” for “events on top of each other like never before” he says. 


Suppliers are now regularly building-up and breaking-down shows simultaneously, often with reduced teams already stretched across multiple venues across the country. 

“We are working to absolute capacity within those areas. I think, reading between the lines, everybody understands what that could lead to, if one element of this whole process goes wrong,” he warns. 

Harrison says the recovery of organisers and the supply chain has been largely equal so far but as organisers start to see their recovery speed up there is no slack in the supply chain to cope. 

 “At the moment you’ve got almost exactly the right number of exhibitors, for the right number of companies who can deliver and the right number of events. 

“There’s no two ways about it supply chain has worked the two busiest periods that they have ever faced, in terms of capacity, last autumn and this spring and summer. They are reporting figures, which are in excess of some of the periods they were having in 2019. But equally, it’s not sustainable. This autumn should see a more familiar calendar of shows, but other pressures will continue well into 2023.”  


Whilst pleased to see exhibitions getting back to full health, Harrison fears that any further growth will stretch suppliers and could lead to a degradation of standards. 

“We’ve already got reports of organisers talking about pre-pandemic levels which is amazing within such a short period of time,” he says. “If anyone needs any more messaging about how resilient an industry we are, then then there it is. But we’re only as resilient as all the key components that are within it. So I would like to see a bit more on those standards, proof of competency and that health and safety from the outset is an equal player, when we also discuss price and design. 

“I think the industry has to have a proper grown-up conversation about what are the standards and I think ESSA has a lot of the solutions.” 


Harrison says the industry will only move forward together, starting with the basics. 

“We often get reports about the contractor base about not being able to gain access to toilets, access to running water, the ability to sit somewhere and have a meal, the availability of good, healthy food on the site. I think in the broader picture of culture and leadership it’s the basics of treating people with respect. 

“The last 12 months has given people a voice in different areas of other industries, including ours, to say ‘actually it’s not okay, we will do the work, but it’s not okay to treat us in certain circumstances like we have done previously’.

“We need to be doing everything we can to address those areas as a wider industry. 

“All of those things feed into culture, they feed into behaviour they feed into respect.” 


For Harrison ensuring the healthy future of the exhibitions industry comes down to working together on core standards – like those set by ESSA’s accreditation scheme.  

“My rallying call is to challenge the rest of the industry to come and meet our standards, and show us where the rest of the industry is aiming for,” he says. 

 “Moving forward through the autumn, and into 2023, I think to really have that serious conversation of, what does health and safety mean? How do we assess competency within our industry?

“We should be able to prove competency, and benchmark ourselves and attain certain standards. And then we can justify conversations around cost and pricing. If you’re always in that competition to drive the price down, you’re almost certainly going to drive quality or competency down. We can’t have a race to the bottom beyond what has already taken place. 

“I don’t believe we are a commodity. When you talk to good venues and good organisers, we’re partners. Supply chain is an equal partner in how we deliver exhibitions in this in this country. 

“You’re not just buying a piece of equipment, you’re buying the service and the health and safety that goes with that. And the welfare, which is needed to provide an environment for people to want to work in our industry. “Remove that and it’s a stark and unpleasant reality.” 

Published in October 2022 edition of Exhibition News


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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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