Games of conkers banned in schools ... litter bins removed for attracting wasps ... hundreds of trees cut down for fear of falling branches ... pantomime stars banned from throwing sweets into audiences ... cross country runs seen as too dangerous ... ‘outdoor’ pursuits for children banned ... pancake runs squashed... and Santa Claus in a shopping centre made to wear a body harness in his 5mph sleigh ...
Many ‘Health & Safety’ stories in the tabloids are apocryphal but there is no doubt that in recent years we have seen the growth of a risk adverse society. The madness may be under threat from Gordon Brown’s new risk assessment watchdog (The Risk and Regulation Advisory Council) - but I sometimes wonder “How did we get here?”
Having worked in entertainment and leisure safety for many years I can honestly say that some of the events I attend nowadays are, quite frankly, boring. Events are supposed to be exciting, stimulating and fun. The public now, more often than not, wish to participate rather than watch, to push the boat out, seek a buzz, an adrenalin rush …but a serous paranoia has gripped event organizers, leading to many cancellations and/or curtailment of activities.
Admittedly, this paranoia is sometimes understandable as it’s a direct result of successful compensation claims by the public fuelled by over zealous legal eagles and a lack of risk management protocols. For example, the public have been successful in even the most bizarre claims for compensation - climbing over a perimeter fence and falling down a rabbit hole being one of my particular favourites! Nevertheless, this cotton wool culture is seriously destroying the event industry’s spirit of adventure, fun, enjoyment, fulfilment and excitement. It’s time to put things into perspective and actually get to grips with certain issues.
We need a better understanding of the law and, in particular, risk assessments. Health & Safety legislation requires employers to ensure that work places/activities are safe - including events. Of course, risk assessment of the activities must be carried out to deal with significant hazards and appropriate control measures must be put in place. However, only reasonable foreseeable significant hazards are to be considered and reasonably practicable control measures put in place - based on potential likelihood and severity. It’s basically commonsense and recognises you cannot, or indeed be expected to, guarantee an event is 101% safe.
Proper risk assessments by competent persons can achieve good legal safety precautions for almost any activity. An innovative, practical, pragmatic problem solving, creative approach to hazard control can be very rewarding - resulting in more exciting, stimulating, challenging events with new diverse, unorthodox, ‘dangerous’ activities accommodated. Paranoid over zealous, nit picking, paper producing processes do nothing of any value. Properly thought out safety procedures that are put into practice on the day need to be appropriate but not stifling. Risk has to be managed, but it cannot always be removed - and nor should it.
We need to put on a show, to entertain and thrill crowds. With risk assessments and skilled, creative, event Health & Safety officials we can still put on shows of which Barnum himself would have been proud.
Richard Limb, Director of Capita Symonds’ Leisure and Event Safety team
- Find out more about Capita Symonds' Leisure and Event Safety Team
- Enroll on the Diploma in Events Safety Management developed by Derby University and Capita Symonds
- What to know what's true and what's myth in the world of health and safety? Have a look at the Myth of the Month page on the Health & Safety Executive website