Sunday, 28 October 2007

Compliance with Standards and Regulations

I ended the last blog stating that contractual compliance with existing standards and regulations is one way to improve risk management by event producers. Let's examine this more closely.

First, what are standards and regulations? Standards are generally specifications or guidelines that have been established by recognized national and international industry organizations called "standards development organizations" or SDOs. They typically pertain to the design and use of equipment. Such organizations include the Canadian Standards Association in Canada and the National Fire Protection Association in the USA. The content of standards may relate to products, processes, services, systems, or personnel. Examples of standards established by these organizations include the Canadian Electrical Code in Canada and the National Electrical Code in the USA. Similarly, other standards in such event production areas as rigging, audio, lighting, and staging, are drawn up by relevant organizations and given numbers and names.

Regulations, on the other hand, are simply standards that have been turned into law, either nationally or locally. Examples include personnel safety standards published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the USA or Workers' Compensation Boards in Canada.

Much of the content of standards and regulations pertains directly to special events. Herein lies the problem. Most event managers and producers have no idea that such standards and regulations exist, yet if they were followed because of contractual obligations, special event risk would be reduced in many areas. A typical example would be the standards pertaining to rigging which dictate how trussing must be designed for use in entertainment. To highlight the seriousness of ignorance, between 2002 and 2003, for example, four major stage and truss collapses occurred, including rigs set up for Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, South African president Mbeki, and Christian rock group Godstock. Although nobody was killed in any of these, in most cases the damage was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and for some, a tour cancellation and continuing litigation.

Suffice it to say, I firmly believe that all special event managers and producers should be familiar with the standards and regulations pertaining to this industry, and to help alleviate potential risk in these areas, should contractually bind suppliers to adhere to all applicable standards and regulations in their specialties.

Monday, 1 October 2007

The Realities of Risk Management in Event Production

Of course we all believe in doing proper risk management for the events we produce or manage, the main four steps being identification, assessment, control, and monitoring. Good risk management theory would have us completing thorough risk assessments before each event we produce. But does this really happen? According to a 2007 industry survey by Event Solutions magazine, only 50% of the events planned by respondents had risk assessments completed. Why is this? Here are my thoughts.

Most event producers are the owners of small businesses and the production contracts on which they work are for relatively small events, such as corporate dinners, award shows, fundraising galas, and others. They are key members of a usually small event team that is faced with short lead times to prepare for the event, rather than the year or more lead times for public events with large event teams, such as festivals, parades, or sports. In short, they must concentrate on work that is directly related to making a profit, and to be blunt, gathering and evaluating risk data is not a task at the top of their priority list. Unless required by contract or by law, assessment is not done to the extent that risk management theory demands. Most producers do the minimum work necessary to execute the event.

Ironically, the responsibility areas of the producer are arguably the most hazardous of any in the event (e.g. staging, rigging, lighting, etc). Not only that, but competition and client demands regularly force producers to push the boundaries of safety in these already risky areas by creating new ways of presenting entertainment and new ways of allowing guests to participate in activities. This is not done at every event, but it is certainly done at enough events that it is of concern, and it is of concern to the insurance industry, already skittish because of regular event disasters around the globe.

There is an underlying current of “ego versus safety” within much of the technical community. According to Rick Smith of Riggit Services in Vancouver, Canada, seasoned technicians in fields such as rigging, lighting, audio, staging, and such are sometimes too ready to accept client demands because they like the challenge of creating something new in spite of the risks involved and standards that might otherwise dictate that it should not be done. In other words, they refuse to say NO to a client when safety might be compromised.

We are thus left with an impasse between risk management theory and the realities of event production, the quest for profit, and human nature. How can this impasse be broken? There are two answers. The first is education, which means that event managers and event producers have to understand in much more detail what comprises event production and what the risks are within the areas of event production, so they can at least ask the right questions and demand the right answers of suppliers. The second answer lies in compliance with existing standards and regulations, and that is a topic for later.