Serve and protect

Rock 'n' roll legends often achieve celebrity status by seeking out danger. Live event production crews, by comparison, are often exposed to health & safety risks they live to avoid.
Jo Marshall.
Jo Marshall.
Analysis, Broadcast Business

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Rock 'n' roll legends often achieve celebrity status by seeking out danger. Live event production crews, by comparison, are often exposed to health & safety risks they live to avoid.

Over the past 12 months, several figures from the live events industry have expressed concern over Health and Safety (H&S) standards in the Middle East citing a lack of enforcement or legal frameworks.

Despite the efforts of many working in the region to ensure the safety of their staff, there is still much room for improvement.

With the typical live events site in the region hosting a number of different contractors, speaking a variety of languages and all boasting varying degrees of H&S knowledge, it's no wonder that production managers get nervous. Their work is made all the harder by a lack, not just of enforcement but of any legislation for the industry whatsoever.

"The market is growing in complexity faster than any good practise guidelines or legislation can accomodate. - Jo Marshall, HQ Creative."

S&S spoke to a number of well-known promoters and production managers who regularly shoulder this responsibility in the Middle East's burgeoning live entertainment industry.

The director of production at Dubai-based events management company, HQ Creative, Jo Marshall, argues that H&S standards do not go far enough to protect the welfare of live events production personnel working in the region.

"The market is growing in complexity faster than any good practise guidelines or legislation can accomodate," he says.

"The most appropriate step would be for the implementation of government standards drawn up by a panel of industry experts, and overseen by an industry-backed organisation.

"The industry should heed the lessons learned by the industry in the UK, where the level of regulation is untenable. Hopefully we can find some middle ground; an effective and practical solution."

As an event management company, HQ Creative staff are not required to possess H&S qualifications, explains Marshall. However, the company does follow strict safety guidelines on site.

"We also employ an independent H&S officer on every outdoor job that we do," he says. "Clients do not fully understand the costs of H&S when looking at the budget for a given job. I would estimate that around two percent of the budget on a medium to large job is given over to ensuring H&S standards are met, with this percentage increasing for smaller events.

"Those responsible for enforcing H&S depend on the nature of the gig, but generally it should be, and usually is, a combination of the production company, the venue and the client. Having said that, the costs tend to come off our bottom line.

Thomas Ovesen, head of AEG Live Middle East, shares many of these opinions.

"As with any other legislation we need to have one government entity handling everything, from the issuing of event organiser trade licenses, event permissions, venue permissions and all other licensing issues.

Such an authority can then easily be consulted by the industry. This might finally lead to an organisers' association. Once the industry, together with the authorities, agrees on H&S standards, policing the rules should prove a relatively straightforward process.

"Some progress is already being made toward implementing this type of initiative. I would expect that the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) will be presenting the industry with at least a proposed H&S/Event Regulations document during 2008.

"Currently in Dubai it seems that some organisers and venues follow a particular set of H&S guidelines using, say, the H&S practices of Australia or the UK without considering local issues. This is not necessarily an ideal solution.

A number of suppliers and several event organisers would not be able to continue to operate if comprehensive H&S legislation was implemented.

Luckily we have never had any serious incidents, but some of the event "grand stand seating" arrangements I have seen in the past have been frightening - loose seats put on shaky scaffold platforms with no railings, for example."

Production manager Lee Charteris was responsible for overseeing the organisation of Justin Timberlake's concert at Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi last December.

"A number of suppliers and several event organisers [working in the Middle East] would not be able to continue to operate if comprehensive H&S legislation was implemented. - Thomas Ovesen, AEG Live."

"We implemented strict H&S guidelines on site for the Timberlake show and most companies involved happily accepted this," he says. "I believe that it is the job of every event organiser or promoter to ensure a safe working environment for staff, as well as for contractors.

Given the increasing number of international artists visiting the region, such guidelines are essential to ensuring the industry's long-term success.

In the UK all industries are guided by one all-encompassing set of guidelines aimed at protecting employees regardless of whether they earn their crust in an office, a factory or running cables for stones.

The guidelines are extremely comprehensive and include portions of legislation that are obvious (Work at Heights Regulations), obscure (Ionising Radiation Regulations) and relevant (Noise at Work Regulations) for the live entertainment industry. Collectively, they are known as the UK Health and Safety at Work Act.

With 30 years experience working within the live production industry, Chris Hannam now operates events health and safety consultancy Stagesafe and assembles relevant resources for the trade on the company's website, stagesafe.co.uk.

He is actively involved in the development of H&S activities in the UK production business and is the author of the book Health & Safety Management in the Live Music and Events Industry.

Hannam says that despite the established and comprehensive regulations in place in the UK, many companies still choose to flout the law.

"People don't get into rock and roll to be 'health and safety-ed [sic]' if you like. When measures such as risk assessment were first introduced, many in the industry thought they were just being made to jump through hoops.

It was difficult for these people to see the benefit of the paperwork. Unfortunately, there are some ignorant people in the industry that still can't," says Hannam.

Risk assessment involves identifying the potential dangers on site and quantifying them. In the UK, it is a legal requirement to do this and then mitigate for these risks and put systems in place to protect those exposed to potential dangers.

"Some operators see it as a waste of time, money and effort but if they had to face the family of someone who had died at work they would have a very different attitude I'm sure," says Hannam.

According to Hannam most of the UK Health and Safety at Work Act is based on directives handed down by the European Union. He suggests that these could be easily adapted to the Middle East market.

I think the European directives would be a good base for any new legislation that was to be drawn up," he says.

With many of the companies working in the Middle East boasting European experience, they are likely to be familiar with the legislation and the practices that they require for implementation. Perhaps it is an opportunity to get rid of some of the red tape and the unnecessary aspects of the paperwork. Aside from that it could remain largely the same."

Hannam agrees that the opportunity ideally presents itself to rid any prospective Middle East legislation of the unnecessary bureaucracy that has plagued the UK's H&S regulations.

"Given the number of international artists visiting the region, [H&S] guidelines are essential to ensuring the long-term success of the industry. - Lee Charteris."

Under UK law, those responsible for implementing H&S standards must maintain records of what they have done to identify the risks and reduce them. This paper trail protects diligent companies from the law, should an incident occur and a case be brought to court.

"In UK criminal law you are innocent until proven guilty; in H&S law you are guilty until proven innocent. Keeping detailed records puts people off but you have to have the paperwork in order to show that you are doing everything possible to prevent an accident," says Hannam.

"Once you have the system in place it's easy to administrate. Some view it as an unnecessary burden but the cost/benefit analysis shows that it is really worthwhile financially, as well as being a legal requirement.

Bizarrely, despite the best efforts of production companies to reduce the chance of an accident, serious or otherwise, insurance firms do not take the H&S procedures of a potential client into account when calculating annual premiums, claims Hannam.

"Insurance companies just look at the number of staff you have and your turnover then base the premium on that," he says. "What they should be doing is looking to see if the company has all their H&S procedures in place, are working under supervision where required and to the correct regulations and ensuring all staff are trained to a high standard.

Hannam points to a recently launched initiative in the UK called Live Insurance, which is designed specifically for the live entertainment industry. The scheme is organised by the Production Services Association (PSA), a UK-based industry body, exclusively for PSA members.

"It works on the same principals as any insurance company but on a not-for-profit basis," explains Hannam. "This allows those with high H&S standards (and so are less likely to make claims) to receive cheaper premiums with no shareholder dividends or profits skimmed from the fund.

Hannam believes self-regulation remains vital to the long-term success of the industry. He also suggests that there are elements within the construction industry looking to create additional business for themselves by having the live production sector legally obliged to gain certification from construction-based training bodies.

"We have people from the construction industry who want to teach us their skills for huge fees, which they see as relevant to us. They see the word rigger and think there is no difference between what we do and what they do," he says..

Although there may be some superficial similarities between certain areas of each respective industry, Hannam does not feel that this justifies outsourcing responsibility to those in another trade.

"It would be impertinent for an organisation outside our industry to try and tell us how to run our businesses. If we don't bow to self-regulation there are plenty of people who would like to do it for us and they don't have a clue what we do.

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