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November 3, 2008

PLAYING IT SAFE:Why CIPS is turning its attention to meetings and events health and safety

In the wake of the corporate manslaughter bill, health and safety is finally getting the attention it should within the meetings and events community. To support this, the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply’s (CIPS) Event Services Group is incorporating good health and safety practice into its Event Services Guide. This will provide advice to procurement professionals whilst also supporting the setting of standard across the rest of the industry.  

I feel there are six key issues that need to be addressed and I believe these will be hotly debated at our group meeting on 7 November.

Defining the reach of health and safety

What do people mean by the health and safety of events? Many people think it is just about ensuring nobody gets injured. While the assessment and mitigation of risk is a vital part, there are other elements that would come under close legal scrutiny if something was to go wrong; and should therefore fall under the Health and Safety umbrella.

If a piece of stage lighting falls and injures someone or a coach crashes as its brakes failed leaving a number of delegates seriously hurt, how far back do we take the trail of responsibility? Who selected the production agency or coach company? What checks were put in place during the suppler selection process to ensure risk assessments were properly carried out and that the personnel and equipment used was fit for purpose? Supplier selection and contractual responsibilities form an important part of the health and safety debate.

Also, having just received the phone call of the incident, what next? Who goes to the hospital? Who notifies next of kin – and do you have this information? Who talks to the media? What about the damage to the brand, let alone the law suits? What is done in the first 60 minutes – known in crisis management as the Golden Hour – is critical and could save lives as well as reputations. Crisis management prepares for this sort of eventuality and must surely form part of a considered health and safety policy.

And what about insurance? Is everybody, including all suppliers, adequately insured for all eventualities? Having mitigated risk as much as possible, it is also sensible business practice to insure against certain scenarios. But what considerations are there?

So, health and safety covers risk assessment, supplier selection & contractual responsibilities, crisis  management and insurance. Or should we call it something else? If so, what?

Corporates cannot absolve responsibility

When speaking to procurement professionals, I have heard a number of times that health & safety is managed through the agency selection process.

My understanding, however, is that the onus is on the ultimate purchaser – the corporate client – to look after those attending one of their events. A corporate must demonstrate they are asking the right questions for each and every event. They cannot delegate this responsibility to an agency. The corporate client must be pro-active.

Getting clarity on responsibilities will be an important part of our discussions.

How far do we go?

Do we need a risk assessment for a meeting of 20 people? or 200? When selecting a coach company, do you need to see the actual coaches that will be used on an event? Do you need a crisis management plan for a local UK team meeting or just overseas?

Health and safety legislation requires event organisers to ensure the safety and welfare of those attending an event so far as is ‘reasonably practicable’.

What does ‘reasonably practicable’ mean? Trying to understand where the line lies is another of the key objectives for our meeting.

Ignorance or apathy?
At a recent risk assessment seminar attended by a cross-section of event agencies over half did not know it was a legal requirement to undertake a risk assessment. Yet these are supposed to be the experts!

I believe we also face the same situation in other key stakeholder groups such as procurement, internal event teams, budget holders.

Ignorance or apathy – which is it? The jury is out. With the work being done in the industry over the next 12 months, no one will be able to claim ignorance. And if it’s apathy, that is very concerning.

Corporates need to pay for it
Much of the responsibility for the management of risk assessments, creation of sensible crisis management policies and selection of proper suppliers will lie with the event planners – either  internally or with a dedicated event agency.

All of this takes time and money and for agencies needs to be re-couped through their fees. This might, however, make them more expensive than those event agencies who do not undertake such a rigorous process.

The selection of pro-active event agencies is a sensible procurement policy. But will corporates, procurement and stakeholder alike, insist on it during selection and be willing to pay slightly more for this service?

Driving the event industry agenda
It’s however not all doom and gloom. There are some excellent examples of effective health and safety management, both within corporate clients and suppliers alike.

The key is ensuring the work of these enlightened few becomes adopted by the wider masses. Industry associations such as Eventia, MPI and HBAA are all committed to making this happen. For the rest of the industry, will it take someone’s death and someone going to prison to make them take it seriously?

Mark Budge is chairman of the CIPS Events Services Group. For more information on the Events Services Group, or to share your opinions, contact Mark Budge on 07909 961306.

Following the Event Services Group’s meeting on 7 November, we will be running a series of articles examining the conclusions the group has come to.

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