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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Brian D. Avery has over twenty five years of experience in the events, tourism and attractions industry. His background is comprised of three areas of expertise: risk and safety management, event design and execution, and education. Brian routinely is asked to speak on the topic of event and attraction safety and provide expert testimony.
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