New academic research can help us all better champion health and safety when on-site, says ESSA director, Andrew Harrison.

Health and safety (H&S) are the backbone of any great event. Not only do they help ensure that the event is safe for all in attendance, but H&S keeps those responsible for setting up the event safe during its build-up and breakdown. After all, preventing workplace accidents is not just a legal requirement, but a financial one too when it comes to the costs involved should an accident take place.

Ask anyone in our industry how best to encourage safer working though, and you’ll likely be met with a huge mix of opinions and ideas. Academic research into our industry is often few and far between, yet recent research into the science behind H&S for events, the first of its kind for the industry, not only provides some valuable insight – but also reinforces what ESSA has been saying on the subject for a long time.

Improving capability 

The research, conducted by Chloe Batchelor, event health & safety consultant and behaviour scientist, explores perceptions around safe working behaviour in the events industry. By interviewing and conducting research with various event professionals, including ESSA members, she concludes that five primary working resources are required for safe working behaviour – time, access, materials, plans and people.

Chloe posits that to change safe behaviours, you need to address your workers’ capability, opportunity and motivation.

When it comes to capability, the study suggests providing physical skills and addressing knowledge gaps is key, something ESSA’s Health & Safety Accreditation and training addresses with the report stating: 

“Thus, it is reasonable to assume that ESSA Health and Safety Accredited members would have little to no capability shortfalls and few opportunity deficits.”

Opportunities and communication

When it comes to opportunity, the study, which used the COM-B model of behaviour to identify where the barriers to behaviour are, states: 

“…the findings suggest that of the COM-B components, opportunity is the component that is perceived to have the greatest effect on the performance of safe work behaviour by event contractors.”

Of the opportunity areas identified, lack of time, lack of necessary materials and a lack of more developed plans were some of the most commonly listed as areas of limiting opportunity. Moreover, the lack of easy access was the most cited reason for unsafe work behaviour in the study.

Event workers need to feel that they have the resources they require and the opportunity to express these requirements. ESSA has been working hard to provide more opportunities for all to communicate these needs better, such as through the introduction of the ESSA Event Portal, our resource for organiser companies to use to support event suppliers and exhibitors, providing a central place for all involved to better plan and collaborate.

Whilst communicating on the job is essential, Batchelor’s research highlights that simply relying on positive feedback from managers onsite is not enough to facilitate safe working behaviour: 

“…the findings of the study failed to support the conclusion of Komaki et al. (1978) who reported that positively reinforcing safe working practices is a viable approach to occupational accident reduction.”

We must therefore all become better at planning and communicating ahead of time and be safe in our knowledge and skills, many of which can be further honed and enhanced through approved H&S training courses such as the ESSA Individual Inductions for example, to ensure safe working behaviour during build-up and breakdown. 

Time, plans and materials

Other key drivers identified in the study affecting unsafe work behaviour included lack of time, lack of necessary materials and a lack of more developed plans:

“The identification of lack of time as a key driver for the performance of unsafe work behaviour by event contractors supports the COM-B model’s assertion that opportunity, and specifically physical opportunity, is one of the components that influence behaviour.”

Time is something we often see discussed as an issue affecting those working in the events industry, and it is one that doesn’t often have the easiest answer.

Tight turnarounds for events will always be an issue, but working quickly shouldn’t come at the cost of safety. Instead, event workers should look at interventions that target opportunity, such as restructuring the environment where possible, to help ensure safe working, even against time constraints. 

When it comes to having relevant plans and materials, again it comes back to communication, and communicating these needs ahead of time with all relevant parties to ensure everyone has both the opportunity and the capability to do the best job they can. 

Academic research is an integral part of further professionalising the events industry because it offers fact-based evidence to formally identity and mitigate risks to inform decision making.

Furthermore, this research qualifies the work we do at ESSA, which encourages the adoption of a more structured approach to prevent accidents and injuries to ensure the protection of employees working within our industry.

Published in Exhibition News magazine on 9 April 2024


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