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August 4, 2016

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Sports: Running the risk – managing safety at marathons

elite start 2   As part of SHP’s focus on sports, we talk to Symphotech, the company which oversaw health and safety for the Vitality Reading Half Marathon, where over 12,000 runners took on the 13.1 mile challenge.

Organised by Sweatshop and Goldline Events, the 2016 half marathon marked the 33rd edition of this popular event; starting in Reading’s Green Park and finishing in the Madejski Stadium, home of Reading Football Club. Following the company’s recent appointment as safety consultants to Goldline Events, Symphotech was on hand to oversee the health and safety for the third year, providing advice, contingency plans and project management before and during the race.

Speaking to SHP, Will Hodgson at Symphotech, discussed the key risks associated with half marathons. Community disruption was a key risk, having to take into account the way that businesses trade and the disruption to services. “It’s inevitable that a road race will disrupt the community,” said Will. “People going about their normal lives to and from work, hospitals and home.”

Getting runners to and from the start of the race is also a concern. Reading has a very complex bus system, explained Will. “A lot of runners have to arrive by train and the start of the race is quite far from the station. We also have to close a number of roads as a stray car on the course can cause havoc and is a serious risk to runners.”

“Pot holes are becoming more prevalent,” said Will, explaining that ideally these trip hazards need to be dealt with before they cause serious injury.

When asked how they dealt with crowd and runner safety on the day, Will said: “The event has over 750 staff on duty during the marathon, many are paid but there are also lots of volunteers. All key staff have been to at least one briefing before the event so that they are fully aware of their teams roles and responsibilities; which is all about crowd and runner safety.

“Drinks stations are positioned at the recommended places with over 50,000 water pouches. The route is broken down into different zones, each with its own manager and team, who all report into the event control room.

“In the event control room is the event organiser and the event management team, radio controllers, highways, police, fire and medical services There are a team of response motor cycles on hand and safety and sweep vehicles preparing the roads for reopening and the management of any people who may be struggling.

“The route is run before the event and just before it opens, both cars and motorcycles ride the route to ensure it is fit for purpose.” SHP asked Will how weather is planned for, he said: “The weather is taken into account and watched closely; different control measures are put in place depending on the forecast. From heaters, to mist showers, all different weather conditions are dealt with.”

Medical issue change depending on the weather predictions, said Will. “Sweatshop use the services of a Medical Director who specialises in mass participation activities. For example, should the weather be in excess of 18, it is advised to have mist showers. At Reading, although the temperature was not forecast to be above 17 degrees, these were put in place as a precaution.”

Will was on site throughout race day, acting as ‘silver commander’ to undertake tactical decision making, implementing the race plans and overseeing the movement of the participants and spectators around the course, opening roads as and when it was safe to do so. He said: “We’ve been working with the Reading Half Marathon for the past three years and it’s always a pleasure to work on this event. Due to its popularity and challenging nature, it was vital that it was given the upmost care planning the health and safety for the participants, spectators and staff.”

Judith Manson, Race Director, described the event as a huge success and thanked Symphotech for their support:  “The success of the day would not be possible without the fantastic efforts from our safety consultants, team of events staff, volunteers, sponsors and partners.”

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Barry Williams
Barry Williams
7 years ago

I’d be interested to know the health and safety reasons behind headphones/ earphones being banned at this even and events like it especially as other controls seems to be present of segregated routes, road closures and marshals being present?

7 years ago

Ref headphones etc, they are distracting and you can’t hear emergency instructions. Not a problem if everything goes according to plan, but if an ambulance needs to get through or a risk manifests itself mid race, you need to be able to communicate instruction effectively. People do die and get sick at these things so you need to cater for it. Road closures help, as does segregation, but in some cases not ALL of the route is closed. Marshalls are invariably semi trained volunteers with the best of intentions but it can take just one person needing assistance to remove… Read more »