Event, Tourism and Attraction Signage… What is the Message?

Safety signs sending wrong message

First and foremost, let’s start with the basics. What is a sign? A sign is something that suggests the presence of a fact, condition, or quality not immediately evident; an indication an action or gesture used to convey an idea, desire, information, or command. Additionally, it can be a board or placard displayed in a place to advertise or convey information or direction, or a conventional figure or device that stands for a word, phrase or operation. I think we now have a firm understanding… like we didn’t before!

To some extent, signs are everywhere. They inform us, they sell to us, they provide directions and warn us of potential or real dangers. Signs can be broken down into numerous categories, for the sake of this blog I will limit it to 5: informative (this tree is a “xyz type”), directional (“Enter Here,” “Exit Only”), way-finding (“Fantasyland,” “Park/Event Exit”), instructional (“No Smoking Please,” “Do Not Feed the Animals”), and warnings (innocuous, “You may get wet” to life and death warnings, “High Voltage”).

Event, tourism, and attraction (ETA) environments are no different than any other environment when it comes to the use and needs of signage. ETA environments are saturated with signs and other visual forms of communications. It could be argued that such an abundance of signs in these environments results in the signs being ignored, becoming visual background noise. However, when done correctly, the constant instruction provided through signage can produce an environment that reflects specific rules and associations that in turn promotes more predictable behaviors.

Considering the nature of ETA environments (often temporary) and the relationship with invitees (patrons) on controlled premises, the goal of an ETA’s planner should be to develop sign packages that properly inform, direct, instruct and warn patrons regarding the intended use of the external and internal environment and available experiences offered. ETA organizers and planners typically have the basics down: food and beverage locations, restrooms, parking, cash machines, VIP areas, and way-finding. However, many of the critical signs often get overlooked.

Unfortunately, the most often overlooked or underdeveloped sign is a warning sign—also the most critical. Many confuse a “warning” sign with that of an instructional/informational sign. There is a significant difference between warnings and instructional/informational signs. A warning is an intimation, threat, or sign of impending danger or evil; advice to beware, as of a person or thing. We should use warnings to advise patrons and staff of harm and the intended consequences of said harm. This practice is often only achieved after an incident due to failed or inadequate policies/procedures to identify and/or eliminate/mitigate known and foreseeable hazards.

There is good news though! There is a science to developing and implementing signage—one that the ETA industry can easily follow and implement. Standards exist within industry that address the formats, colors, and symbols for safety signs used in environmental and facility applications, product applications, and accident prevention tags/tape. ANSI Z535 is a primary example of a standards writing body that develops such practices. It is important to note warning signs are the last resort of consumer safety and should only be used when engineering practices cannot remove the hazards associated with the experiences or conditions. If it has been determined that engineering the hazard out is not possible, then develop proper educational measures and enforcement tactics to prevent incidents. The use of established warning methods is a great place to start.

Near Miss NOT Enough to Save Scare Actor… Another Halloween Themed Event Claims a Life

Corn maze safety planning

It goes without saying the popularity of Halloween. Halloween has been a growing source of revenue for numerous industries for several decades, an 8+ billion a year industry. This once happy-go-lucky kid-centric holiday has been hijacked by teenagers and adults seeking extreme experiences and encounters. Anyone with a T.V. can attest to the fact that pushing the envelope of fear seems to be the new norm… Halloween or not! Enthusiasts and savvy corporations alike have done an excellent job of capitalizing on the public’s desire for Halloween attractions and events that provide freighting and sometimes immersive experiences.

As with anything in the attraction and entertainment world, owners and operators are always thinking of new ways to attract larger and more bountiful audiences. Who can blame them, the attraction and entertainment options seem limitless, and as a result, it is difficult to appeal to patrons and ultimately get them to part with their hard earned dollars. This, in some instances, has caused owners and operators to push the limits and reach beyond their capabilities and knowledge base.

Case-in-point… on October 15, 2014 a young man by the name of Jeremy McSpadden Jr. was killed on the job while working as a scare actor at the Incredible Corn Maze near Hauser Lake, Idaho. Jeremy was one of many paid to portray horror-show creatures. While in character, Jeremey was walking next to the bus, lost his footing and slipped under a rear wheel. The hook for this particular event, patrons were provided paintball guns and encouraged to shoot at the scare actors from a converted school bus rolling through a cornfield—an interactive corn maze / zombie apocalypse shooting experience.

The popularity of corn mazes have been on the rise since the early to mid-1990’s. Today, there are hundreds of farms operating mazes as attractions. Originally, mazes were intended to be standalone attractions used for guests to meander through at their leisure. Some, mazes have become known for their artistic value as well. Regardless, this popular form of recreation is a way for farmers to earn additional income during the fall season.

Unfortunately, incidents of a similar nature have occurred over the last several years. In fact, the day prior to Jeremy’s death, a co-worker tripped and fell under the bus, running over him—suffering no injuries. Jeremy’s boss was scheduled to address the issue but had gotten off work late and did not have the opportunity to correct the situation. Jeremy’s boss stated in an interview that Jeremy simply did not have time to react before the bus ran over his head.

To focus, this blog is not anti-corn mazes, Halloween experiences, farmers or overzealous corporations… it is intended to shed light on the continuing problem of inexperienced event planners and producers subjecting patrons and staff to known and foreseeable hazards while experiencing events. There are numerous readily available examples regarding how to effectively develop and operate a Halloween experience—or simply developing an event. Consultants, standards, common practices, previous incidents, trade groups and more address and shed light on the proper way to protect your staff and patrons when developing and event. With proper design, education, and enforcement, a well-planned and innovative event can be equally exhilarating, immersive and safe.

Simply google: Corn Maze Safety, Halloween Safety, Scare Actor Safety, Event Safety and you will find limitless materials on planning a safe event. No more excuses! If you don’t know, ASK!

Hayride Safety… Planning a Successful Event

Hay ride safety planning

Fall is a great time of year for the events industry. The weather cools, kids are back in school, parents are settled into a routine, and the holidays are fast approaching. Event planners and organizers capitalize on the autumn air and the eager community by providing attractions and experiences at art shows, festivals, pumpkin patches, and more.

During this time of year, one of the fastest growing and most sought after events by patrons is the “farm experience.” Many farms are taking advantage of the appeal of a rural setting during the fall and providing patrons with numerous entertainment options. Those options can include: pumpkin patches, hayrides, corn mazes, bounces houses, pumpkin- apple-chuckers, playgrounds, petting zoos, haunted attractions, and various other amusement rides and devices. On the surface, most of these attractions and experiences would seem safe. However, each has varying levels of risk and each needs to be addressed accordingly.

Over the next several weeks I will address the safety concerns of the offerings independently—due to the unique nature of each. I am going to start, however, with hayrides due to a recent incident that occurred on 10/11/14, in Mechanic Falls, Maine. A 17-year-old young woman died and 22 others were injured while experiencing the Gauntlet Haunted Night Ride (hayride) at Harvest Hill Farms on. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has estimated that the number of serious injuries of hayrides and other amusement rides has risen dramatically. This makes sense, considering the escalation in the number of providers and patron experiences. I am privy as well to several incidents and resulting deaths/injuries due to the nature of my work.

Hayrides are an amusement device? According to ASTM F-24 on Amusement Rides and Devices, an amusement device by definition is: A device or combination of devices or elements that carry, convey, or direct a person(s) over or through a fixed or restricted course or within a defined area, for the primary purpose of amusement or entertainment. Although ASTM clearly identifies through definition that a hay ride is an amusement device, it does not cover or discuss them within the provided standards though (UPDATE: ASTM WK50036 is currently working on a guide for the Operation of Hayride Attractions). This does not mean there are no standards or accepted practices within the industry—quite the contrary. There are numerous publications, guidelines, rules, state laws, etc. that address how to properly develop, maintain and operate a hayride safely.

The key is seeking these guides, recommendations and practices—standards, and applying them to your event or venue. As event planners and operators there are numerous relied upon processes and frameworks for developing a safe and secure event. Through the identification and use of these internationally acknowledged frameworks, experienced event planners and organizers would know the process to develop and/or secure quality processes and/or vendors in order to provide safe attractions and experiences for patrons. When inviting patrons to experience events on typically non-purpose built premises is it imperative that proper planning and research go into the equation. Hayrides and the routes they take are no different.

When developing a hayride amusement experience you should consider the following: Route inspection and maintenance (this is an ongoing process—potholes, tree limbs, embankments), tractor and equipment (hay bales secure, trailer size/capacity, hitch hook-up, towing capacity, braking ability, traction), training and communication (ground crew, drivers, gate staff, spotters, radios, hand signals, signage, lighting), loading and unloading (queue line, barricades, fencing, waiting areas, steps/ladders, surface, staff), and tractor operation (supervision, rules, additional vehicles, routes). This by no means is a complete list, however, it should be an indicator to farm/event operators of the need to research and develop policies and procedures that address the safe operation of a hayride attraction. There is a formalized process for doing so, they just need to take the time to learn about and carry it out.

More often than we care to believe, within the events and attractions industry, patrons are subjected to known and foreseeable risks due to inexperienced event planners and operators seeking to take advantage of windows of opportunity. Some within the farm industry use these events to remain economically viable. Regardless of the reasons, when planning an event and inviting patrons to experience attractions, the planner/organizer needs to invest some time and money in providing a safe and fun experience for all. The identification and use of established policies and procedures for hayrides can eliminate and/or mitigate most known hazards associated with them.

Staking 10×10 Tents at Festivals and Events

When installing temporary structures such as tents at festivals and events, it is imperative that consideration be given to the following safety related concerns: Obstructions, location, weather, wind exposure, access, exits, and anchoring stability. Event organizers and planners are responsible for identifying materials and standards that provide requirements for the proper setup and use of tents in event environments. Event organizers and planners must consult manufacturer instruction manuals, industry standards, and national and local regulations and codes when organizing and setting-up events regardless of size or scope that will be using tents.

Quality 10’x10’ tents are sold with accompanying instructions for care, maintenance and set-up procedures. Although 10’x10’ tents have the ability to be free-standing they require proper anchoring for weather and other related concerns. It is important to determine the installation requirements and capabilities of the tents allowed at festivals and events in order to ensure the safety of the vendors and patrons occupying and using the tents. Most, if not all, owner’s manuals for 10’x10’ tents clearly indicate the appropriate methods for staking down a 10’x10’ tent.

In addition to the provided owner’s manual, there are readily available guidelines and standards addressing the safety of tents, canopies and temporary membrane structures. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 102 Standard for Grandstands, Folding and Telescopic Seating, Tents, and Membrane Structures (2006) addresses the safe installation and use of tents, canopies and temporary membrane structures at festivals. The Industrial Fabric Association International (IFAI) Procedural Handbook for the Safe Installation and Maintenance of Tentage addresses the safe installation and use of tents, canopies and temporary membrane structures. The IFAI addresses the requirements for site surveys, staking and setting-up pipe frame supported tents.

The IFAI discusses the requirement of consulting the provided manufacturer’s manual regarding the setup of each tent. The consultation of the owner’s manual is required for ensuring compliance with layout, staking and setup regarding the safe use of any tent. The IFAI provides site survey safety materials to identify and recognize hazards concerning the installation and use of tents. Of its seven listed safety considerations, it recognizes that the installer should be aware of obstructions, location and access. Additionally, the IFAI suggests that a detailed installation and safety check sheet should be developed by the company providing set-up.

Aside from weather related tents failures, trip hazards in walkways and paths must be considered. Careful attention must be paid to make certain that trip hazards are not created when having an event. The layout and use of space should be established in order to avoid introducing known or foreseeable trip hazards (It is a clear violation, in any environment, to create an obstruction or trip hazard in a path/walkway meant for pedestrian use; ASTM F 1637-07 discusses the importance of maintaining safe exterior walking conditions). Tent tethers and stakes are known to pose a trip hazard at events. There are numerous established standards and common industry practices available that detail efforts to avoid the creation of trip hazards as a result of the use of tethers and stakes to secure temporary tents. Event planners and organizers can do the following to minimize the potential of tripping hazards associated with temporary tents and structures (consult the manufacturer manual for the best recommendation) (a combination of the following may be used) (please understand this is not a complete list):

  • Stake directly into the ground and clip the stake at the base of the pole;
  • Tie flags on to the tethers and/or stakes;
  • Weights should be tethered with lines that are clearly visible (color and size);
    • OSHA 1910.144 (a) (3), Safety color code for marking physical hazards, ‘Yellow shall be the basic color for designating caution and for marking physical hazards such as: Striking against, stumbling, falling, tripping, and ‘caught in between.’’; and,
    • ANSI Z535.2-2007, Environmental Facility and Safety Signs, safety colors shall warn through the use of black and orange and caution with black and yellow;
  • Large potted plants or other similar indicators could be placed in front of and around the stakes and tethers;
  • Crowd barriers/fencing;
  • Use of orange safety cones;
  • Sand bag tent pole wraps;
  • Run the tethers along the frame and stake directly into the surface;
  • Use non-tethered weight plates at the base of the tent poles; and/or,
  • Use tethered suspended/non-suspended tube/anchor weights that run along the tent frame.

As an event organizer, it is unacceptable not to be aware of available guidelines and standards addressing patron safety.

Event risk management for meeting planners and venue operators: Forward thinking

Event planner safety tips

The events industry is like no other. Events are dynamic and fluid with numerous issues surfacing along the way. Events are continuously influenced by both external and internal factors. Whether it is a sporting event, concert, trade show, festival, award show, political convention or party they present a unique set of challenges. Events, regardless of size or situation, are exposed to risks involving safety, security, legal, financial, and environmental considerations. In order for an event to be successful, it must manage all of its obligations appropriately; after all, you only have one opportunity to succeed.

Events can range in size from a small family gathering to a multi-national sporting event, with each requiring qualified and competent planners to address pressing issues. Planning a successful event is no easy task. Planners and venue operators must coordinate the delivery, set-up, use and tear-down of equipment, structures, goods and materials; simultaneously coordinating staff and vendors in an effort to ensure a satisfied client. In order to achieve event success it requires early and thorough planning and continuous monitoring of the operation.

Most event planners and venue operators spend countless hours developing and managing their events; the bulk of which are extremely successful. However, more often than you may be aware, event planners and venue operators are faced with adverse conditions and situations that can and do result in serious injuries and/or deaths. Unfortunately, little is being done to alter the outcomes, not because planners don’t care, but because they don’t know. When you ask an event planner what risk management is most will tell you it has to do with contracts, insurance and security. They are correct, but a key and vital component is missingsafety. Many planners and venue operators are under the impression that those items make-up safety.

Contracts spell out agreements between parties, insurance protects parties in the event of a loss, and security observes and reports suspicious activities, but safety, if done correctly, identifies and mitigates hazards and prevents adverse events from occurring. Many planners and venue operators will identify this as an emergency disaster plan; however, this is not the case. Safety is a proactive measure that is necessary to prevent injuries or damages. Emergency response plans are developed to respond to adverse situations after they occur. In order to achieve a comprehensive risk management plan you need a cohesively designed strategy that includes contracts, insurance, security, safety and an emergency disaster plan. The collective whole is what makes this work.

Risk management planning cannot be left to chance. There are numerous examples of accidents/incidents occurring within the events industry on a daily basis. If you don’t think it can impact your organization, think again. It is a matter of time and exposures before it does. Some recent examples include: a fatal stage collapse in Edmonton, 40 people injured in a hayride accident in Washington, a 12-year old run over by a parade float, and a bouncy house blowing over injuring 6. The number of incidents are staggering and each of these listed were preventable. If you continue to operate without set standards addressing risk you are playing with fire. You cannot identify every risk, but you can adapt your plan to mitigate it, essentially lessening the blow to your bottom line and image. Planners and venue operators must do a better job of developing and implementing fully developed risk management plans in order to ward off any potential ill effects resulting from real or perceived negligence on their part.

So what do you do?

You are an event planner or venue operator trying to plan an event and now you have this to contend with – like you did not have enough on your plate. Don’t be alarmed, the last thing to do is sit and stew in fear doing nothing because it is overwhelming. Information is readily available to planners and venue operators and should be used. Listening to and asking you client questions is a great place to start. Historical data from previous events or reviewing similar ones might provide vital data as well. You could also contact insurance companies that specialize in events and talk to them about the risks associated with your type of event. Your insurance underwriter might even share claims data with you concerning past events. Don’t bank on the data though; sometimes the most telling story is the one that goes untold. Near misses are indicators of possible accidents/incidents. If you notice dozens of people tripping over an electrical cord and no one falls that does not mean that someone won’t. Don’t wait for the little old lady in a walker to come strolling by taking a head first plunge. Utilize recording programs to capture that kind of information and train your staff to identify and eliminate situations like that. Remember, every event tells a story, you just have to invest the time listening to the message.

The final suggestion is to identify regulations and industry common practices that impact your event; easier said than done though, this takes time and training. The volume of regulations, standards, codes, ordinances, common practices, and permits that apply to many events are vast and change from location to location. Most event planners are not risk management experts and you should not pretend to be. There are those in the industry that have assumed the title of risk manager, but are lacking the qualifications and background to support it—a potentially devastating mistake. When an area exceeds the scope of the planner or venue operator it is time to contact a qualified expert in that field. However, if that falls outside of your ability or means there is something you can do. Besides ensuring the existence of contracts, insurance and security, the event planner or venue operator, at a minimum, should ask each vendor, book-in, operator etc., if there are special requirements for their respective operation and are they following the approved safety procedures for whatever it is they are doing. All rental companies (tents, stages, golf-carts, etc.), amusement ride/device operators, food and beverage vendors, and more must comply with specific regulations. Essentially, everybody working at your event should be following a set of rules. Word of advice—you want to see a copy of what they are following (manuals, policies, training guides, etc.). If they squirm or don’t have it—find another vendor.

One thing is for sure—the emphasis on risk management is not going away, in fact, some would say that it is just beginning. The media, both social and traditional, are highlighting the missteps of the event industry more and more. As a result, regulators and attorneys are paying more attention to the industry looking to capitalize on negligent acts. The increasingly competitive and international presence of the events industry warrants swift and decisive action regarding sound risk management measures. When event planners or venue operators contribute or are perceived to have contributed to a preventable accident/incident that results an injury and/or death it is difficult to rebound because of public perception. It is important to show and prove that you did everything you could.

Word of caution—as stated, you cannot identify or eliminate every risk, but at a minimum you should be aware of risks associated with your event based on prior incidents and should follow all regulations and practices in an effort to eliminate or mitigate those risks. If you are a planner or venue operator you should fully understand the requirements to host an event at each new location or venue. Some locations and larger venues will spell it out for you very clearly—in fact, you won’t be able to get much done until you comply. However, other locales are not as aware or forth-coming. A good place to start is with the fire marshal’s office at the location you are hosting the event, but don’t stop there. Event risk management is evolving and the requirements for a safe and successful event are changing. Don’t be a statistic, keep pace with the evolution and remain a competitive industry force with forward thinking.

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