AIF’s Claire O’Neill discusses the importance of structural precautions for the festival season

Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) general manager Claire O’Neill recently spoke to API sister publication Music Week to discuss the importance of basic structural precautions across this summer’s festival season…

I am not a structural expert and I think it’s fair to say that, in this respect, I am much the same as other event organisers. It is impossible to be an expert in everything that goes in to putting on a festival. You rarely see the festival organiser performing the headline slot for example.

However, what an organisers must be expert in, is continuous planning, assessment, communication and evaluation of the event they are running. Understanding what is happening on their site, knowing when expert advice is needed, what is required of their contractors, and fully understanding their duty of care to their crew, their audiences and to themselves.

This is why the AIF Structural & Crowd Safety Conference was conceived. We were privileged to welcome an outstanding group of experts including Simon James (TESS) and Andy Yates (Webb Yates Engineers).

At the Southbank Centre the event consisted of a morning workshop on crowd management & emergency planning from Tony Ball (Show & Event Security). The afternoon began with an introduction by Rudi Enos (Special Structures Lab), followed by Chris Kemp (ICCMSS) on the European response to Climate Issues. A panel lead by Andrew Lenthall (PSA) looked at Structural Safety at Outdoor Events. Paul Cook (Live Nation) led the final panel, Emergency Planning for Crowd Safety.

Regrettably there are still some incidents of poor practice and evidence of complacencies. To help organisers it is important to have some clear industry led standards, education, and advice. For instance, is there an emergency procedures plan in place? Are there clearly defined roles and responsibilities? Have all of the risk assessments been written, received and read? Do drawings and calculations match final structures? Is there someone on site with responsibility for the structures who thus can react effectively if there is an issue?

Roger Barrett (Star Events Group) highlighted that they always use a minimum 1:1 ratio of their own crew, who know the structure, to local crew. Barrett also described that when guy wires are needed to hold structures in place, if these terminate out of the footprint of the stage, then whoever decides where and what these are takes the legal responsibility of being the designer.

Organisers must be familiar with liability laws and insurances. Stephen Howell of RTIB discussed the need for equipment insurance in addition to PLI. If marquees, sound or lighting hired and signed for by the organiser get destroyed, it may be a hefty bill to pay. It was also recommended to speak with insurers in advance as they will help in mitigating risks – it is, after all, in their interest to reduce claims.

Paul Cook highlighted that there is not a one size fits all solution and plans must be reviewed and reviewed. It is only tedious until something goes wrong.

Dan Wilson (Loud Sound) described how in the face of adverse weather at Bestival continuous assessment and appraisal of the event plan took place. This led to the site being closed for one day during the build and thankfully no major incidents occurred.

It is worth noting that the majority of incidents at events occur during load in and load out, and thus the event plan should reflect this.

Rich Bryan of Bearded Theory, who experienced a main stage collapse in 2009, described how they since assessed the soil composure and wind exposure of their site and now hired structural engineers sign off structures. A tender process has now been introduced for contractors. These actions have added to the cost of the event but when compared with the costs if something goes wrong it is immaterial, as appropriate timelines and budgets are essential for safety.

These points are all echoed in the first official findings recently announced by IOSHA following the fatal stage collapse at Indiana State Fair. Improper consideration of soil conditions at key anchor points, and stage scaffolding not being properly erected where cited in the report. The company who owned and supervised the construction of the scaffolding were found to have not inspected the rigging. Mid-America gave defense that the organisers were warned in advance to evacuate the structure in winds above 25mph. The organisers were said to have inadequate pre event life-safety evaluation and planning. There are further investigations and lawsuits still to be concluded.

So, what changes can we expect to see if any? Andy Lenthall highlighted the decision at a recent convention for key touring production professionals to encourage band management to include stage safety in their contracts. Conversely cases were discussed where tour security or bands have become an obstacle when a show stop is called. There are only a handful of people with the authority to call show stops on an event the scale of Glastonbury. Such procedures should be made clear and even contractually agreed in advance with bands and management. It is argued in the Indiana State Fair case that the band Sugarland declined requests from the organisers to delay the show.

Another notable change is the cost recovery for HSE interventions. If HSE visit a site and issue a notice for a material breach of health & safety the cost will be the tune of £133 per hour. Such material breaches are becoming more costly even when incidents have not occurred.

So what can organisers and contractors do? Already there are useful tools and guidelines such as IstructE’s ‘Temporary Demountable Structures: Guidance on Procurement, Design and Use’. In March Special Structures Lab are hosting the seminar ‘Examining Large Temporary Structures’. Yourope are developing Europe-wide standards following their meetings at Eurosonic in January. There is the SPA Passport. ICCMSS, TDS, TESS and MUTA all run courses and training applicable for safety at events.

I left the Structural & Crowd Safety Seminar with a sense of grounded confidence in an industry that is constantly looking for ways to improve. Through careful planning with competent people, appropriate resourcing and banishing complacency, the risk of event disasters can be mitigated.

The AIF Structural & Crowd Safety Conference is one of many events and talks surrounding this subject. All corners of the industry need to come together to share, learn, plan and act to keep festivals and events safe for us all to experience and enjoy.