How health and safety has found itself centre stage

That traditional pantomime cry to, ‘Look behind you!’ is thankfully being shouted out again at UK theatres this festive season. Yet the invitation seems more poignant given the fact no one would be back in our theatres if it wasn’t for the behind-the-scenes workers, including the expertise of their health and safety teams.

First of all, there are all the infection control measures these teams have put in place to guard against the spread of Covid-19, a risk that becomes much greater in the winter months and could be made more difficult with the arrival of the Omicron variant.

A protective system based on mask-wearing, providing adequate ventilation and social distancing, as well as vaccination and test checking, is fairly straightforward but it places additional pressure on theatre staff to ensure it’s managed in a way that’s best for theatre-goers and theatre staff, whether they’re performing, working back-stage or within auditoriums.

“On top of managing all the Covid controls, we have a large number of new and less experienced staff who have had to learn and adapt to new working practices and procedures,” said Phill Brown*, Vice-Chair of the IOSH Theatre Advisory Group.

“This hasn’t been easy and more recently we have seen a number of customers becoming aggressive and an increase in anti-social behaviour since theatres have reopened after lockdown,” he added.

“I suppose we’ve all lived through nearly two years of trauma, a frustrating time for everyone, of course, that has seen people react in many different ways but it’s proved difficult to plan for and to manage.

“Many theatre workers themselves have had a difficult time this last year or so, many being furloughed or having to cope with all the uncertainty and thoughts of possible redundancy.

“I’d say the fact they’ve then had to work doubly hard when theatres reopened, sometimes in smaller teams due to job losses, and being challenged by the post-lockdown environment makes their efforts to ensure ‘the show must go on’ even more impressive,” he added.

Now health and safety professionals of the theatre and entertainment business are working behind the scenes once again to ensure the sector maintains the strong health and safety record it enjoyed before the pandemic.

So, “look behind you!” because, thanks to those behind-the-scenes health and safety people, performers, venue staff and audiences are back where they most want to be, enjoying what they love.

  • Last month’s webinar staged by members of the IOSH Theatre Advisory Group committee focused attention on ‘Back to Basics’ risk assessment and principles of control. The webinar also explored how these can be applied when managing psychosocial risks to emotional and mental health in the theatre and entertainment industry. You can still watch the webinar on the IOSH YouTube channel

*Phill Brown is Head of Risk & Safety at Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and UK Theatre.

  • The IOSH Theatre Advisory Group was set up in 2016 to provide a global forum that offers a wide range of guidance, knowledge and support for its members, non-members and organisations in the theatre and entertainment industry. Its knowledge sharing plays a key role in continuing professional development, career progression and career entry.
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Jeremy Waterfield
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