Better to be safe than sorry


Health and safety in the sports and events industry is vital. Today’s sports and event safety managers need to be masters of a broad range of skills, from crowd management on the day, to detailed event planning.

Unlike working in a factory where there is time to stop, pause and think about health and safety, the events industry is ‘live’ and the pressure is on for health and safety mangers and ground safety officers to meet tight deadlines.

Sponsorship and media coverage surrounding most sporting events increases the pressure on safety managers; time can’t stop and everyone must be safely in position by the time the whistle blows or hooter sounds. That means any events safety manager must have the capability to think on their feet, and make important safety decisions at the drop of a hat.

In the events industry we are uniquely vulnerable to sudden changes and disruption to civil infrastructure. Our business is often expeditionary; conducted at a distance from our base location. An event organising team can leave its London office to set up an event in Birmingham, Barcelona or Beijing. The greater the distance, the greater the dislocation from our normal environment and the more challenging health and safety can become.

We cannot know what the next unthinkable or unforeseeable crisis will be, but we can prepare knowing that the only certainty in our business is the need to plan, prepare and train to deal with uncertainty. This does not have to mean copious amounts of paperwork, but simply ensuring a comprehensive event safety plan is in place.

Often, people get carried away when creating a safety plan – there may be 20 reasons why a venue might need to be evacuated. However, it is the process of evacuation which should be carefully planned and implemented, without necessarily focusing on the 20 reasons why.

The uncertainties of the world around us and our vulnerability to unforeseen changes presents both a challenge and an opportunity to event organisers. These changes can be difficult for unprepared teams to cope with, so a good event organiser will be able to expand into new markets where others fear to tread.

All those involved in event safety, no matter what the event, must be competent individuals with relevant training and experience – they must also be able to make good ‘judgements’. While relevant formal qualifications are vital, the ability to be a ground safety officer or a health and safety manager at an event is something that comes in time. following a rigorous mentoring programme.
Confidence and knowledge is key; safety managers must be able to judge potential risks and put the safety of all those at an event at the forefront of every decision they make, balanced against commercial reality.

Six years ago, in Chester-le-Street, two women were killed when Dreamspace – an inflatable piece of artwork – flipped over.  Yet on the whole, during the past 10-years the events and sporting industry has seen a massive improvement where health and safety is concerned, driven by commercialisation of the industry.

Undoubtedly, there are still people who put their profits before safety, but this is often down to ignorance. But while big improvements have been made, there is still no room for complacency. As our culture continues to change, so too does society’s attitude and perception of risk. And as the bar is raised higher, so are the standards of safety required.

For more information about the IOSH Sports Grounds and Events Group visit

Comments are closed.