Freelance

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Jamie Hailstone is a freelance journalist and author, who has also contributed to numerous national business titles including Utility Week, the Municipal Journal, Environment Journal and consumer titles such as Classic Rock.
August 17, 2018

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Event Safety & Security

Managing safety at festivals and concerts

August is traditionally a month when music lovers head off to a field in the middle of nowhere to listen to their favourite artists, eat strange food and meet new and interesting people.

festival

Today’s music festivals are a world away from their more infamous counterparts back in the late 1960s and 1970s, when dodgy electrics, non-existent crowd control and a whole lot of mud were always on the setlist.

Figures from the trade body Music UK show that the live music scene is currently worth around £1 billion to the British economy, with 3.8 million people attending a festival in 2016 alone.

And although figures for last 12 months are not available yet, the large number of festivals held all over the country this summer would suggest that festival lovers have never had it so good with professionally-run events that take their safety as seriously as their musical tastes.

Max Rhead, who is one of the co-founders of the rock festival Steelhouse, which takes place every August on Hafod-y-Dafal Farm on the edge of the stunning Brecon Beacons, says safety has been “consistently right up there” on his list of priorities since the event started in 2011.

“Thinking back to the festivals of my youth, there was little or no acknowledgement of health and safety,” Mr Rhead tells SHP Online.

“Nowadays, health and safety are very important and it should be that way. It’s protection for us, as much as it is for anyone who attends the festival.

“Every element on site has to have insurance, health and safety policies and paperwork in order. The artists and the agents who book the artists expect a festival to be operating on those principles.

“There is also an expectation from the audience and the artists that if they arrived on site and the whole setup felt short, there would be an element of doubt. It helps us create an air of organisation and professionalism.”

Mr Rhead says one of the biggest safety issues for Steelhouse is the flow of traffic and pedestrians onto the site.

“However successful an event can be, it can be sullied by memories of not being able to get off the site or getting stuck in a field,” he explains.

“I can remember going to one particular event and having a fantastic day, but it still took four-and-a-half hours to get out of the car park. It really put a dampener on it, so we ensure we get people on and off the site as quickly as possible. That can be done with proper planning.”

Safety induction

John Sursham, who is a freelance consultant and has been the safety advisor at Fairport Convention’s Croperdy Festival in Oxfordshire for the last 18 years, says safety has definitely risen up the agenda for event organisers in recent years.

“We are fortunate in that the crew who work at Croperdy have a great deal of experience and come back every year,” says Mr Sursham.

“Everyone who arrives on site to work gets a safety induction,” he adds. “Everyone who is driving on site also gets a reminder on how to drive and the need to observe speed limits. That’s the level of training that is provided.”

Although the festival is held every August, he says the first on site health and safety work is carried out in April and May, when all the trees are surveyed and any remedial tree work is done.

“During the site building period we made sure all the crew had water containers, with Fairport Convention embossed on the site, so they were not using plastic bottles,” he adds.

We had our own onsite catering unit which runs from the beginning to the last day of the build, so they got adequate refreshments and they could take breaks to get out of the sun.”

“A lot of time and thought goes into our visitors. We are different from a lot of festivals,” he adds. “Croperdy has a mature audience, but they do bring younger members of the family along, so we are fully aware of the range of people we have.

“We make sure we have more than enough toilets in the camping areas. Unlike other festivals, people can park their vehicles next to their tents. In the 18 years I’ve worked on the festival, we’ve never had any vehicle and tent collisions.

“In the arena itself, we have good communication systems with the audience. We also have a very successful lost children facility, which is staffed by teachers from the local schools, who are all registered to work with children.”

Crowd congestion

festivalMatt Stone, a safety advisor from AD Health and Safety, who is working on the Cool Britannia 90s music festival at Knebworth Park in Hertfordshire says modern festival goers want to have a positive experience and feel safe.

“You need to have plans in place for a festival, because the potential for risk is high with a large concentration of people in one place for a short period of time, a temporary infrastructure and a site that is open to the elements,” explains Mr Stone.

“You need to have your finger on the pulse, be sufficiently resourced and have a team that is experienced in dealing with all sorts of incidents. The Cool Britannia team have seen a lot, done a lot and are not easily flappable.”

He adds the design of any festival site is key, because you “want to design out as many safety issues as possible”, particularly in regard to crowd movement and congestion.

“Cool Britannia has a slightly different audience dynamic, which means they are more grown up in their approach. They are better prepared, so you haven’t got a load of 16-year olds who turn up without a proper tent and end up freezing cold, and being a welfare issue.

“That being said, because the audience is a little older, sometimes they forget they can’t drink like they used to. On a hot day, we can see a spike in the late afternoon, when they might have done themselves some damage,” explains Mr Stone.

He adds the recent heatwave has meant an increased risk of small fires at some outdoor festivals, because everything is “tinder dry”.

“We’re lucky at Cool Britannia because we have our own onsite fire response team and we’ve been through the worst of the dry weather.

“The industry is significantly safer than it used to be,” adds Mr Stone. “You have businesses and individuals who are doing everything they can to make the profession as safe as it can be. Everyone is striving together to make events safe, secure and successful.”

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