Safety First

We decided to follow up on the issue of safety in the MENA region
Event's industry, MENA, Safety, Analysis, Broadcast Business

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Following S&S’s January edition profile piece with Gearhouse’s Jamie White, we decided to follow up on the issue of safety in the MENA region event’s industry.

F ollowing the January edition’s profile feature on Gearhouse’s project manager, Jamie White, it seemed only appropriate to follow up on the issue of safety. White mentioned in his interview that one of the main obstacles facing the region’s event industry was the, “lack of health and safety some suppliers have.”

So we wondered what others, within the industry, had to say regarding this statement and whether they felt the necessary safety precautions were being taken.

Thomas Ovesen, COO of Done Events, starts off by explaining, “In most cases, and unless the venue has its own setup or rules, the issue of safety precautions is left up to the individual event organisers.

I think it’s perfectly safe--do excuse the pun--to assume that, as such, very little attention will be put on the issue, unless by the few event organisers here who employ their own Health and Safety Executive (HSE) consultants, and/or run their business in line with international HSE standards.”

He adds, “You would be surprised to find how many of the media advertised and well promoted events are put on without any such HSE consideration and by organisers with very little experience in managing crowds, let alone implementing basic event safety standards.”

Lee Charteris, VP of operations for Flash, adds, “I would say that safety standards vary quite dramatically, depending on the event and event company involved.  Often, this is driven by budget or a complete lack of experience. At Flash, we are pretty strict about how we and all sub-contractors work at our events.”

So it seems that the opinion amongst those we interviewed was united: the region’s event industry was not taking the necessary safety precautions.

But what exactly was lacking and preventing the MENA region from competing with the likes of the US and Europe in this particular area? Alan Thomson, managing partner of Unusual Rigging & Engineering LLC, explains, “There needs to be more awareness of the risks involved, in not just putting on events, but also the potential hazards during the actual build.

From our perspective, many of the projects we’ve worked on have lacked a project co-ordinator, who would have overall responsibility for health and safety. This would remove the problem of wrong assumptions being made.”

Ovesen also explains, “It’s pretty basic, really. There’s a need for an industry body, as well as a government events industry set of rule and guidelines. Lastly, and just as importantly, there is a need for some stricter standards, in regards to who can legally call themselves ‘event organisers.’

Right now, as it stands in most countries in our region, anyone can setup as a concert promoter, book an artist and do some homemade scaffolding, without ever being checked, questioned or held responsible for the HSE aspects of the event.

That is, until the day when something bad happens.” Agreeing, Charteris adds, “In many cases, basic knowledge and supervision, or any governing body to advise and enforce is what’s currently missing.”

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Though identifying what is currently missing from the industry is highly important if changes are to be made, discussions only go so far. We wondered whether or not the industry would actually see action in the coming months and years. “There are some great initiatives coming from DEPE,” Ovesen explains.

“In addition, other government entities are also working on improvements for the industry, i.e.: we find it increasingly easier to liaise, and receive, the support of government agencies, like RTA, Dubai Police, etc.. However, there are still so many improvements to be made that I think we, as an industry, will need to first get ourselves organised and then put some constructive suggestions of legislation and governance forward to the relevant stakeholders before we can expect to see a significant change for the better.

“Thomson, however, has less of an optimistic view and feels that the industry will only see a change when the accidents become more frequent. “Unfortunately people only become more aware when accidents occur.” That said, Thomson is not entirely convinced that all’s lost.

He explains that, “As the industry develops in the region, clients will learn to ask questions, regarding health and safety, insurance, risk assessments etc.,” thus (hopefully) bringing about change.

The International Special Events Society (ISES) began its Middle East chapter earlier last year, opening up yet another avenue for industry professionals to tackle issues, such as safety.

So we wondered whether or not people would utilise ISES-ME’s services. Charteris explains, “Any body or organisation that wants to help raise safety standards and/or levels would be welcome, in my view, as long as their intentions are coming from the right place.”

Thomson agrees, stating that ISES-ME would be beneficial for creating a programme for training and awareness through its, “educational arm.” He adds, “International trade associations, such as PLASA, of which we are a member, also have well documented standards and procedures which could easily be adopted in the region.”

Ovesen, much like Charteris, is keen on ISES-ME playing a part in developing the Safety within the industry. However, he explains, “I think a promoter’s association is required as ISES-ME is more of a body for the industry rental companies and suppliers.
And to be honest, they are light years ahead of the industry of organisers, promoters and event managers who still have a significant percentage of the market split between cowboys, inexperience and unprofessional operators. “

Ovesen mentioned the need of government involvement with the process of improving safety measures within the events industry. But we wondered how significant having government inclusion within the process actually was. Does the government need to set down regulations or is this something that can simply be achieved by the professionals within the industry?

Ovesen is convinced that government presence is a must. “Absolutely. A strong involvement and commitment from both the government side and the industry side is needed, whilst rooting out the ‘bad seeds’ in the industry,” he insists.

“We also need a commitment from both sides for implementation of best practise and re-investment of collected industry frees back into the industry. Considering there are no industry bodies nor rules and regulations, the event permission process and collection of 10% ‘taxes’ off ticket sales are horrendous in a market where tourism and city activation is declared ‘top priority.’

“Charteris agrees, adding, “Regulations need to be enforced and that can only be done with law. So yes I would say that the government has to be involved at some point during the process.”

Thomson finishes by stating, “In Europe and the US it is the trade associations that have formulated safety standards, with help from regional and national government. I am thinking this is needed here, not just of rigging, but areas such as electrical, engineering and crowd safety.”

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