With the events sector due to return on 1 October in the UK, Aaron Ludford explains how the industry can prepare.
Safety professionals in events and exhibitions are accustomed to managing change. Much-needed amendments were made to the CDM Regulations in 2015 to incorporate events and temporary structures, triggering an evolution to the safety processes within the industry to conform to the new principles. While it was a test enough facilitating such an upheaval of the sector’s safety culture, it bears no comparison to the new challenge presented by COVID-19.
The mutilation of the events and exhibitions industry by COVID-19 is well documented. An industry the government estimates is worth £32.6 billion to the economy and represented a quarter of the 38 million international visits to the UK in 2018, simply vanished overnight. The subsidiary effect of the cancellations on the hospitality industry that operates in interdependence with events is unquantifiable. All of the UK’s most noteworthy business events were either cancelled or postponed, including the bi-annual Farnborough Air Show, which attracts thousands of visitors from across the globe. The show will now not return until 2022.
A knock-on effect
When such events do return, it will not be a case of a triumphant revival and reverting to type. Severe damage has already been done, with the world of events being brought to its knees.
Many usual exhibiting businesses and retailers will not have the funds required to return, or even the appetite in such uncertain times. Redundancies have haemorrhaged the sector even in light of the job retention scheme, with events companies remaining uncertain when the money will start coming back in. Several reputable stand-building firms have sadly had to cease trading. The worst part is that there could still be plenty more misery to come. For the foreseeable future, the industry has changed beyond recognition.
Trade associations such as the Association of Event Organisers (AEO), the Association Event Venues (AEV) and the Event Supplier and Services Association (ESSA) have worked in conjunction with the government to secure a safe return. After months of lobbying and various campaigns, on 17 July prime minister Boris Johnson provided 1 October as the 'go date' for the return of indoor events, providing they adhere to strict social distancing guidelines with both reduced scale and attendances. Though certain smaller outdoor events have already been allowed to return, indoor events organisers must remain patient until October.
At the start of the pandemic, venues such as London’s Excel, Birmingham’s NEC and The SEC in Glasgow were transformed into Nightingale hospitals. Mercifully, they were not used, and have now been placed into hibernation ready for the return of exhibitions, if (and it’s a big if) the 'R-rate' doesn’t increase, forcing further delays. Given a rise in cases in some parts of Britain and across Europe, it is hard to predict what the landscape will look like in October. Indoor pilot events such as the World Snooker Championships that was scheduled for a return at the start of August had to be cancelled due to a rise in infections. It remains to be seen whether or not events will be subjected to further delays and whether spectator sports will return this side of Christmas.
A safe return
Although safety professionals working in the event industry cannot predict how the land will lie in a month, and whether the 1 October date will come to fruition, we are duty bound to be suitably prepared for October. We must endeavour to lead by example to ensure that when events do return, they do so safely. The guidance and measures recently published by the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport in accordance with the AEO are useful.
Event safety professionals should also ensure harmony between actual on-site practices and the new industry-specific All Secure Standard Risk Assessment Framework formulated by AEO, AEV and ESSA. The implementation of control measures established in the example risk assessment will ensure a consistent and uniform approach to the management of safety on site across the industry.
While ensuring compliance with the previously mentioned guidance, safety advisors and floor managers can take several other proactive steps in preparation for a safe return, namely by:
- conducting training sessions with project managers, site managers and event managers, to ensure they are aware of the guidance, their roles and responsibilities, and how they can securely manage their teams
- providing COVID-19 working inductions to operatives or subcontractors attending site on behalf of the company you represent, so they too are aware of how to work safely on site in a COVID-secure way
- maintaining regular communication with other safety professionals you work in conjunction with, whether it be venues, contractors or organisers, interoperability is vital, therefore strive for early sharing of information and consistent control measures
- preparing the procurement of protective equipment such as masks, visors and hand gels
- organising temperature checks at places of work as well as at venues to reduce the threat of transmission
- enforcing the correct isolation periods on staff reporting symptoms of COVID
- ensuring compliance with all track and trace procedures on site
- ensuring non-conformities from people you are supervising are addressed appropriately.
The survival of the entire industry rests on simply maintaining what has already been maimed by the virus. Disjointed or differing approaches to working on-site in a COVID-secure way creates confusion and could lead to spikes and force further delays to other events returning. The return of business events and sports events will save thousands of jobs and support the economy as it looks to take its early steps into recovery.
It will be many years before the industry returns to full strength, but as ever, success relies on sturdy and robust health and safety management.
Aaron Ludford is a health and safety advisor in the events industry