Author Bio ▼

Dr Karen McDonnell is head of RoSPA Scotland & Occupational Health and Safety Policy Adviser. She is also the immediate past president of IOSH.
August 22, 2018

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Crowd Dynamics

‘Event health and safety is very much about the whole person’

Crowd dynamics needs to be taken into consideration when managing safety at events, says Dr Karen McDonnell, Occupational Health & Safety Policy Adviser at RoSPA.

karen-mcdonnellWhat needs to happen to create the right environment for people to get together and relax, enjoy some downtime? Whether watching La Traviata at Opera Holland Park, Amy McDonald at Belladrum or the Hungarian Grand Prix, the risks to your health safety and wellbeing will have been considered, and controls put in place almost imperceptibly.

Each of these occasions provides a unique experience for the audience, participants and crew, supported by a risk assessment proportionate to the scale of the event and the degree of risk.

Whether 1,000, 20,000 or 70,000 spectators, organisers need to consider not only the interface between the public and their chosen entertainment, but the before and after, ‘load in, load out’, against a tight schedule.

Where people gather, understanding crowd dynamics is fundamentally important. Being able to predict the pattern of activity during the build up to the performance and then the flow of people away from the venue at its close is one of the key factors to consider.

‘People patterns’ – like the murmuration of starlings – reflect the need to group, surging and swaying. However the associated hazards of crushing, falling, trampling or dangerous behaviour, which might occur in order to improve a view or express dissatisfaction or elation, also need to be deliberated upon.

It’s not crystal ball gazing. Predict and be pro-active – for example people are always looking for the quick getaway, so event organisers will need to ensure roadways are kept clear for emergency vehicles; friends and families may stall and gather at pinch points on the way into or when leaving the venue, so there will be a need to create meet and greet areas to help people stay together. Then there’s the drifters who begin to leave the venue and hear that one song that they didn’t expect, and turn back against the tide of others during the encore.

Event health and safety is very much about the ‘whole person’. Although it is entirely possible to have an opera-loving, Amy McDonald-listening Formula 1 fan, the three occasions mentioned earlier are quite distinct from each other, suggesting that the audiences in each instance might behave quite differently.

Whether for 90 or 155 minutes, crowd dynamics need careful consideration…there have been too many voices silenced by getting it wrong.

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