Health and Safety, Risk Mitigation and more at your Event: such a lot of things to content with, on a fast moving basis, once the event gets going. But the key to success is always preparation, preparation, preparation. Did we mention preparation?
For the NZ Event Industry, a number of observations is made through a PDF download, from our Industry Organisation, the NZ Association of Event Professionals, here. We would strongly urge a thorough read of it, for obvious reasons.
NOTE: There are additional resources you might like to check out at the end of this Post.
It can't be stated often enough: while you can't account for everything that might go wrong, you can certainly have a plan in place that mitigates against risk, and ensures there is at a minimum some coherent plan in place that shows staff (at all levels) to know what to do and when to do it. The key to have at the forefront of planning is being mindful of taking "all reasonable steps" to ensure health and safety. And don't forget, some of the Risk Mitigation includes what not to do. For example, if someone has an accident, ensuring sometimes that people aren't moved could be just as paramount as ensuring they are. How so? Think about injuries which can be exacerbated to a more critical level, if professionals are not doing the task. You can mistakenly move someone in a panic to get them out of the way, but if you don't know what you're doing, you can end up with a broken limbs, or worse. It's happened. Be aware!
Ensuring staff have adequate basic First Aid training in this is a good "first step" to mitigating the panic that often accompanies the appearance of an accident. St Johns Ambulance here in NZ are obvious people to contact over this. Don't put inexperienced Event Staff in areas where such risks are more likely to occur than others, and ensure support is just a quick call away. Whether that's by roaming staff who are more experienced checking in on less experience members of your Team, a mixture of Radio or Cellphone calls (or special Apps even), or having designated Medical Staff posted permanently nearby, however you do it, the choice of those options and more is dependent on the Event itself.
Preparing a Risk Management Plan
There's a lot of templates about that provide great information on preparing a Plan, and how to drill staff into learning their part in the plan and much more. Have a Plan A, and, importantly, a Plan B as well. Not all things may work out in the first instance, so you have to know how to smoothly go from your 'ideal' to the next option quickly, and without fuss, which will keep tensions down and focus on the primary goal: keeping people safe. That is, and always should be, the primary duty. We've emphasised people because things can be replaced (you have insurance right? If not, get it!), people can't
Depending on the event, private or otherwise, your planning may involve external groups. These range from Police, Fire, Ambulance and related. For Private Events, it is a little easier, if no less important, to be aware of normal hazards, that might seem obvious, but astonishingly aren't always checked out: power leads that can potentially trip people up, lying in high-traffic service areas. The potential for attendees to group themselves around possible Exit points. In fact, the potential of people to prevent exit because there is no coordinated evacuation plan. Other things to work on are observing potential hazards that may not be in your direct control - what else is going on that could impact on your general Safety plan? Is there an Event that is taking place next door even, that could pose potential threats?
For public events, the hazard potential is exponentially higher by default, for obvious reasons.
Thus, you would typically have to get Local Authorities involved to verify (Council for example, particularly when traffic management issues may need to be cleared with respect to closing off normally publicly accessible thoroughfares at certain points), and then clear (sign-off) on a range of things: communications protocols, Crowd Control issues, how these functions cross-over, and the hierarchy of responsibilities. You'll inevitably have to work out Comms protocols as part of this, since Police, Ambulance, Fire and related public services have converging duties with respect to overall public safety issues, and have their own unique ways of working together (usually well worked out through long association, so you'll have to work with them to understand how they will work with you): whether that's handled by a mix of Radio, Cellphone and so forth, and the extent of how that works, is up to your Event and its requirements.
Important also to consider within your planning is how problems will be appropriately escalated (how, and to who should be notified across a range of risks/emergencies), and most importantly as a sub-layer of that - resolution protocols. For example, once a problem is "kicked upstairs" so to speak, keep people in the loop on resolution. Otherwise, when people on staff don't know what's happening, they cannot in turn keep attendees (or other staff!) informed of how a problem is being solved (or not, as the case may very well be). Which brings us to...
Communication is the key!
Nobody likes a problem getting out of hand because people weren't being informed of what was happening, and it's easy to overlook the importance of keeping people in the loop.
For example, you've got a whole lot of people waiting in line to board a bus that is taking people off-site. You know that this is out of your hands to a certain extent, because it relies on timings from other providers (maybe you've arranged a particular provider to handle this for example).
While people are waiting in line, what can you do to keep tempers down during long waits? Keep them in the loop. It's often as simple as that. Everybody appreciates that people are only human, delays occur, but what's not acceptable is providing no answers, stonewalling or appearing to not have a clue what's even happening at your own Event!
Don't ignore questions. Do put things in context.
If someone is fretting that they won't get on the bus, simply assure them that there is in fact space for them, it might take a certain amount of time to progress up the line, but that they might have other options if they don't want to wait. The public buses may be nearby, for example, may be an option for them. Please be particularly mindful of parents with small children - everybody has the right to attend particular Events with their kids (for obvious reasons, we're assuming this is an open, public and non age-restricted event we're talking), so your job here isn't to "put up" with the kids, it's to think "What can I do to make this situation better?" Don't talk down to them, ever.
If it's hot, perhaps do your best to ensure there are shady points in the line. Make sure sunblock is available. Provide extra hats if needed. Offer some form of distraction, perhaps you could arrange with another Event Provider to supply newspapers that could be distributed (yes, regardless of the fact everyone has cellphones), or some vendors to walk the line every now and then with something to cool them down. Simple steps like that, which are in your direct control, goes a long, long way to keeping tempers from flaring, believe us!
Below are some resources you might definitely like to make use of in researching, assessing and preparing a suitable plan for your own Event.
Always be mindful that the safety and well-being of both Staff and the Public should always be taken very, very seriously. The consequences of not doing so can be disastrous. Always bear in mind that not attending to a proper assessment involves potential loss of reputation, a financial loss, damage to goods and facilities, injuries to staff, attendees, over-stressed workers and over-resourcing of one objective leading to under-resourcing of other crucial areas. And the worst result is always the death of someone, staff or attendee. Nobody needs that, at all.
Keep things as easy to put into practice as is possible!
We know planning can get complicated, and there's a myriad of tasks to bear in mind. But make sure that every protocol is easy-to-follow, because you might have to rope someone in and explain a process in seconds. There will be instances when people don't have the luxury of time on their hands (volunteers for the day don't have the benefit of weeks of lead-up training, members of the public roped in to help in a moment of disaster have even less) so keep the end process you agree on as an Organisation and Team as bullet-proof as is possible!
RESOURCES FOR H&S, RISK MANAGEMENT & INSURANCE FOR YOUR EVENT
NZAEP Guide to H&S Act for Event Managers PDF Download
NZ Major Events Risk management (financial and non-financial)
NZ Major Events Health and Safety Planning
Creative NZ Risk Management Toolkit for Creative Events
Resources: Risk Assessment, Management and Checklist Templates
First Aid Training from St Johns Ambulance
Insurance Broking and Risk Management: Marsh Insurance Services (for Sports, Entertainment and Event Insurance)