Sports and events safety: In conversation with Symphotech
Julian Spear and Will Hodgson talk to SHP about their unique series of events which combine horse racing with live music concerts. With two different sets of risks, Lauren Applebey asks how they strike the balance between keeping people safe and putting on an unforgettable event.
Tell us more about Jockey Club and the sorts of risks you have to deal with at this sort of event?
(Will Hodgson) The Jockey Club Live is a unique series of concerts which combine horse racing with a spectacular line up of music. With 21 live concert dates across seven racecourses, this year we’ve seen performances from Bryan Adams, to Jess Glynne and Little Mix, at some of the world’s most famous equestrian venues. Due to the combination of two varying event types, we are tasked with identifying and overcoming a host of new risk factors that differ from those at regular sporting events.
There are many risk factors here that differ from the normal everyday sporting activities. The first one that catches everyone out is the fire risk assessment; the standard one done for a regular stadium sporting event changes once we have added our infrastructure for the change of use and therefore has to be redone specifically for the concert. Symphotech works hard with our partners to use our experience of the music event industry to get the safety balance right. We are very conscious that The Jockey Club has an exceptional reputation to maintain and a very good safety record. However, Symphotech enhances this position by bringing its experience of the music industry and its use of temporary structures for the events. With our experience we can design and position stages within the confines of the topology of the different courses. This takes into account the capacities and the changing crowd dynamics as the event crosses from horse racing to a music audience. The nature of the act is also critical in the demographic of the audience, as different acts will need a completely different make up of stewarding, pit crews and medical cover. You also have to consider weather. If it’s hot, cold or raining, all have considerations for the crowd safety and contingency planning needs to be done for all eventualities.
How are you finding that things are changing in terms of keeping the public safe, in light of recent events?
(Julian Spear) In light of recent tragic events, this events industry has certainly seen an increase in event and venue security, bag searches and some events have even seen the introduction of metal detectors to improve security measures and help put guests at ease. Letting the public know that they are safe at events is paramount, and their welfare is our top priority. As health and safety professionals, we have always been vigilant when it comes to live events, ensuring that every eventuality is planned for and this is now a major priority for events professionals around the world. We constantly speak with the statutory authorities to make sure that we are currently apprised of the latest security industry advice and thus can act accordingly.
We know you often change sporting events into music events. How can you do this safely, and what sort of risks do you have to consider?
(Will Hodgson) With Jockey Club Live events we run a duel role with the course safety officers because it’s a combined event of racing followed by a concert. The course safety officers look after the racing and we look after the concert element, this works well as both parties have their specific expertise. We write a full event safety plan for the concert element of the evening that dovetails in with the course plan for racing. We do all of the due diligence and safety checks on contractors entering the site for the concert build. We monitor all of the construction on site, as required by CDM, including the production load ins, and we monitor the crowd and pit area during the show. Once the show is over we then oversee the entire production load out and stage deconstruction.
People say never work with children or animals, there are often both at your events. How do you deal with the unique risks of working with horses, letting people enjoy the sport, but keeping everyone safe?
(Will Hodgson) With some of the world’s most prestigious horses racing in these events their welfare is paramount. We ensure that no loud music is played while the horses are on the course and following the racing we liaise directly with the course clerk to make certain that they are safely tucked in their stables before the music starts.
The actual health and safety of the racing is handled by the course safety officers who are on hand to ensure that the guests safely enjoy the sport.
In terms of noise, how do you find the balance between giving the crowd what they want, and keeping them safe?
(Julian Spear) There is a happy medium, it has to be a reasonable level for people to enjoy it; if you go to a gig you want to feel the energy of the music, but there is a point when it becomes so loud that it could become damaging. Instead of ordering the music to be turned down, we work closely with the sound to get specific frequencies under control. This is the difference with having a background in sound engineering, we can speak their language and they understand where we’re coming from, which works really well.
The technology we use enables us to record and log the data we collect, which can then be sent to the local council so they get a tamper proof document with the conclusion of the noise from the event. This gives them piece of mind that the noise levels are being carefully considered and can help settle any noise disputes that may arise. A recent example of this is at Aintree Racecourse where we discovered that the background noise levels of the road outside the nearest resident were higher than the limit set on the license conditions. Through evidence acquired by logging the traffic noise, we were able to negotiate higher limits than on the license.
Which sorts of events pose the biggest challenges in terms of health and safety?
(Julian Spear) To say that one type of event poses a particular challenge is extremely difficult. Each event throws up its own series of challenges and it’s our job to work with the promoters to overcome those difficulties. The most difficult challenge is to make sure that the organisers of the event understand the gravitas of what they have undertaken and that ensuring the safety of those that are coming to the event takes a skill and an amount of pre-planning.
Most events are created by a series of subcontractors coming together in one place each with their own skill and job to do. These are normally organised by a single point of contact the event manager, production manager etc., who are focused on the job and often do not have the knowledge to ensure that the work streams are compliant with the myriad of regulation that covers what is being undertaken. The challenge is normally to convince the event that our service is essential before the ‘near miss’ or an improvement notice.
Events safety seems fascinating and rewarding, what advice would you offer to a OSH professional looking to work in this area?
(Will Hodgson) The event industry is full of people with a passion for arts. This is true from the guys who supply the temporary structures, to the set builders and everyone between. And with that passion comes an industry built on experience with a mixture of fresh talent and engineers and event experts who have been on tour since the 60’s with most of the great modern entertainers. They all know what they are doing and what has to be done. Immersing yourself within the world is the best way to succeeded in the events industry, working alongside these experts and absorbing as much of their knowledge as possible.