Opinion: effective planning is key to ensuring event safety

With Glastonbury underway and Wimbledon due to start next week, it's an incredibly hectic time for both the sport and live music industries. Chris Hall, Chair of our Sports Grounds and Events Group, examines how safety is managed at such large-scale events

Summer is always a busy time of year for the UK’s sport and live music industries.

Festivals are in full swing: Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds and Creamfields, to name a few. In the sporting calendar, the annual events include the Wimbledon tennis championships and the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, while this year international cricket abounds, with the World Cup followed by the Ashes. Then there are numerous mass participation activities, including marathons, half-marathons, cycle rides and triathlons.

These events have one common feature: they all attract huge crowds – of 150,000 or more at Glastonbury and Silverstone – keen to see their favourite bands or support their sporting heroes. They also rely on an army of personnel to deliver the events safely. This wouldn’t be possible if it were not for the significant contributions made by volunteers.

They provide support in a range of positions and fulfil a multitude of roles – at the gates, the food stalls, acting as information resources, answering queries from spectators and participants, and clearing up. But while they look after the spectators, who looks after them?

Having a disparate workforce, especially one made up of volunteers and non-regular staff, creates a challenge

Event organisers have a legal (Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974, ss 2 and 3) and moral duty to ensure that this valuable but dwindling resource is looked after, that they go home safe from an event and feel valued. Without them, an event could be affected financially by having to backfill the roles they undertake with paid staff. 

Volunteers have expectations that the organiser will ensure their safety while they attend an activity or event. Organisers themselves should have a desire to protect those who contribute towards the success of their event.

In most cases, event organisers are successful at managing health and safety risks. Although minor accidents do happen, they are infrequent. But we have to guard against complacency. Having a disparate workforce, especially one made up of volunteers and non-regular staff, creates a challenge compared with the certainties afforded by permanent employees who regularly undertake these kinds of activities. Employees are often better trained, informed and experienced in these types of roles and the tasks required of them.

So, how do we continue to ensure event safety? The IOSH Sports Grounds and Events Group, which I chair, represents a broad spectrum of activities. We work closely with many organisers of large-scale spectator and mass-participation events and can see the fantastic work that goes on away from the public eye.

To ensure a safe event, planning needs to start months in advance. Thousands of people are often involved in preparing the site, with health and safety challenges (including structural safety, fire safety and those brought by the weather) requiring consideration and risk mitigation.

Ensuring these events pass by without any significant incidents is a challenge and we should recognise the enormous behind-the-scenes effort that goes into achieving this. 

If you would like to know more about the work of the IOSH Sports Grounds and Events Group and its committee, visit our microsite.

Originally published in IOSH Magazine

Marcus Boocock
Communications Officer +44 (0)116 257 3139
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