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June 22, 2009


In the second part of our look at the impact of the UK’s Corporate Manslaughter Bill, we look at the effect this will have on UK companies going abroad and companies from outside the UK holding their events there. Pete Roythorne continues his investigation…

With varying global health and safety standards, the UK’s first charges under its Corporate Manslaughter Bill could well have opened a can of worms for the meetings and events industry. What does this mean for big multinationals holding their events in the UK, or for UK companies going abroad? Indeed, with the Olympics just around the corner and the UK’s meetings and events industry talking up the huge opportunity this gives them, the sector will have to work hard to meet its lofty aspirations in safety.

“In the UK we tend to have a more sophisticated health and safety regime than in other countries and this should be a comfort for people coming across to the UK,” says Paul Cook, past president of MPI UK and managing director of Clarity Event Insurance. “For multinationals based in the UK it means that they need to be ensuring compliance with the legislation. It could be an opportunity for them to roll out the good ideas and practice to other parts of their organisation.”


Bird's eye view: China's Olympic centre piece was
responsible for at least 10 deaths


John Hooker, managing partner of Adding Value Consulting, a change management practice that specialises in the events industry, believes this should be viewed as part of the wider global acceptance of corporate social responsibility (CSR). “There should be no distinction between whether companies are UK based or coming here for events and meetings, all have a duty of care for people in their charge,” he adds. “The cost of getting it wrong is onerous with unlimited fines and prison.”

Tried and trusted
However, for UK companies going abroad, Nick Grecian, managing director of crewing company Gallowglass, feels it can be difficult to get the same standards outside the UK. “The standards of health and safety and its policing vary hugely across Europe. Few venues really press for adherence and local suppliers will often pay little heed to documentation,” he explains. “The safest bet is to use trusted suppliers even if it means using ones that are UK based.”

And Grecian’s thoughts are backed up by Austen Hawkins, Association of Event Organisers (AEO) interim director and Events Suppliers and Services Association (ESSA) commercial director: “Laws differ from country to country and there is no way to ensure the same levels of protection, but by attending events organised by global or reputable companies there is a level of protection as is membership of recognised trade associations although there are no guarantees. On the service side, using providers that comply with local standards or that are officially appointed will also offer a degree of protection.”

Cook, however, believes that whoever companies are dealing with and wherever those suppliers are, they should carry out the same diligent checks that they would for using any supplier in the UK. “It may involve some further research and you might even need a translator on occasion to understand completely,” he says. “Just because you are overseas doesn’t mean there should be any less attention paid. In fact, you will need to be more diligent due to the local laws/customs/insurance regulations and cultural differences that will apply.”

Fatal fascination
The Sunday Times reported last year that China had systematically covered up the accidental deaths of at least 10 workers in its rush to construct the futuristic ‘bird’s nest’ stadium in Beijing for the 2008 summer Olympics. Fatalities also occurred in Athens. So with the Olympics soon to be landing on the UK’s shores, Grecian believes the industry is in for a challenging time: “The spotlight is really going to be on the industry in both the run up to and during the Olympics. There is going to be considerable stress put on resources particularly as several other major events will be drawing on those same resources at the same time. I think it is likely that the most reliable, professional and, therefore, safe suppliers will be booked up first and leave other, less organised, meeting and events and production companies scrambling around for what’s left. The key will be early planning and preparation. Look at it thoroughly, understand what is really required and book early.”

However, Hooker believes this is a great opportunity for the UK’s meeting and events industry to lead the health and safety agenda. “The Government is using the Olympics to introduce a raft of initiatives around CSR, some of which are likely to become legislation which is the case with corporate manslaughter, and that this could be a good thing for the UK’s meeting and events industry,” he concludes. “The UK is at a cross roads in this sector and now has the opportunity to raise its game. If it embraces this changing landscape then it should have a profession that will be ‘fit for purpose’ and take the Olympics in its stride.”

Irrespective of the UK’s increasing legislation in this area, one thing is clear: you cannot amend your standards just because the event is in Manila and not Manchester. Companies have a duty of care to their staff wherever they are.

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