Dr Rob Harris, an innovative leader in international events education, co-author of ‘Event Management’, one of the most widely used texts dealing with the area in the UK, will be visiting London in January to lead a short course on event management at the University of Westminster. Ahead of the festive party season, with many large-scale outdoor events coming into the critical planning stages, Rob provides some useful top tips for understanding and assessing risk.
Risk Management is an integral part of business and a specific requirement for successful event management. It combines a number of management disciplines, including knowledge management, change management, leadership and strategy. A better way to think of risk management is to consider it as an informed decision making process that seeks to create certainty from uncertainty. It can also be viewed as a form of applied thinking that will help you develop the wisdom to tackle difficult situations and uncertainties in future events. While it won’t prevent freak snow conditions from forcing you to cancel your festive marquee event like Chelsea Football Club has just had to do, not putting in place effective risk management strategices can result in disaster for event managers and are, without doubt, a vital part of the planning process.
The emphasis on risk management in the event field has developed with the increasing specialisation and complexity of service supply. Event managers act as coordinators of services (e.g. firework companies, seating stand contractors, lighting companies) but often know little about the risks associated with each service and the degree to which the contractors they employ understand their jobs and have systems in place to manage risk. In addition, the number of cross risks that can eventuate when you have many service contractors together on site during the time constrained event build phase adds to the complexity of issues with which an event manager must deal.
In order to provide guidance to organisations and individuals charged with managing risk an international standard (based upon the Australia and New Zealand risk management standard) has been developed (ISO 31000:2009). This standard identifies and discusses the key steps in the event management process, specifically:
- Communication and consultation
- Establishing the context
- Risk assessment
- Risk treatment
- Monitoring and review
- Recording the risk management process
Risk managers often hear the statement “Oh, I didn’t think that would happen….” referring to a high wind that has caused a marquee to flip over or to a situation in which a person trips and injures themselves as a result of an electrical cord that has not been taped down. The application of the risk management process is designed to minimise such risks as can be seen in the following example.
Lets’ assume your event requires the set up of a structure such as a marquee (see Figure 1). Such shiny white stretched skin structures with aluminium frames are common at many outdoor events. They provide shelter from the sun and the rain, as well as a place that can be decorated as part of an event. The shelter it provides also creates wind resistance and, with one side open, they can effectively act like a wind sock. To avoid these structures blowing away they are commonly weighted down and/or pegged to the ground. There is, however, a finite amount of wind these structures can tolerate depending on how they have been anchored.
Figure 1: Marquee setup
Often the hire companies that own these structures have sub-contracted labour erecting them under various levels of supervision. When these structures are weighted down they often use 20kg steel blocks which are hand lifted into steel frames on the legs. These blocks often the last to be installed and if the crew is tired, running late or the truck is located some distance away, not all legs may be anchored in this way. How many event managers would check to see all of these weights were in place? Further, how many event managers would know if these weights would be sufficient to hold down a marquee if wind speeds rose to 60 kph, 80kph or 100kph? If these structures are upended the 20kg steel blocks can easily be flung out of their leg frames like peas from a pod with potentially lethal results.
The risk management process in this circumstance would be to request from the contractors long before they came on-site to erect the marquee a risk plan. This document, if correctly crafted, should alert the event manager to the issue of wind risk so that appropriate strategies can be put in place to manage such a risk (e.g. increasing the weight on each leg frame, cancelling the event if wind speed is predicted to rise above a certain level). This process of becoming aware of risk and then developing mechanisms for dealing with it is key to successful risk management.
The importance of communication and consultation in event risk management
Communication and consultation are key to successful risk management. Once you become aware of the risks associated with an event you need to develop mechanisms to manage them. One way of assessing risks is to grade the dimensions of the likelihood of the risk occurring and the consequences if it does. Although this can be achieved in a number of ways, the event industry is currently more comfortable with a qualitative assessment method. The method aims to identify how serious a risk may be on either safety or commercial terms. In the case of the previous example, the contractor would need to supply the event manager with their risk plan which would include a detailed action plan as regards how the risk would be eliminated or controlled. For example, what wind speeds will the structure be able to withstand before a dangerous situation arises? Once the event manager is properly informed of the risks he/she can create their own risk management plan, alert staff as to the risk, program-in checks to ensure the structure is appropriately set up, and prepare a contingency plan in case of high winds. The event manager would also be advised to request a handover letter from the hire company stating the marquee was erected correctly so that they can prove that duty of care had been considered.
A simple way to start a risk assessment is to use a risk matrix. The one below has been developed as a template by Avert Risk Management Services. Such targeted risk assessments can be completed after doing pre site inspections and visits and then referred to in the risk assessment process. They are also an excellent way of starting the risk identification and control aspect of the risk management process.
The more complex the risks the more detailed the research, consultation and controls required. In this sense risk management is also a knowledge management system that documents for others learning processes about the risks involved in event management.
The risk management process is a dynamic system which also requires an effort towards continual improvement. Although awareness education and checks are a good start, the requirement to continually improve methods and lower risk potential needs to be considered. This means we need to constructively think about how we can change to make activities safer and reduce risk. Referring to the example used previously, the contractor could change the method of weighting the legs from steel blocks to 400 kg concrete blocks. These would have to be installed with a fork lift thus avoiding the manual handling issues associated with the 20 kg steel blocks. Also they would be easier to check as only one per leg would ever be required, (which is easier to count…), have better ballast properties and would never be flung around if high winds prevailed.
The application of the risk management process should be viewed as a way of getting us all thinking about how we might create safer and therefore better events for all involved in their setup and delivery, as well as for the people who attend.
Category: General Event Industry News