Don’t spoil the party: risk assessment in event management

With summer comes an increase in the number of events attended by the public. The risks encountered at such events must be properly considered and controlled, writes Andrew Christodoulou.

From church fêtes, street parties and country fairs to musical and sporting events attended by thousands, event management can encompass a huge range of venues and occasions. The risks encountered at such events can vary enormously but all risks, and especially those that involve the public, need to be carefully considered.

Accidents do occur at events and often result in legal action being taken. For example, in 2013, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reported that the owner of a horse and carriage ride was sentenced to 200 hours’ community service after a grandmother died as a result of being struck by a runaway horse at a Suffolk country fair. In another incident a company was prosecuted and fined after a worker was seriously injured by a toppling metal column as a stage was being prepared for a festival in Yorkshire.

Systematic risk assessment is the best approach for safe event management. This ensures that all the risks encountered are dealt with and controlled to an acceptable level and that all important legal requirements and standards are complied with. It is essential that the time and effort expended on the risk assessment exercise for events is proportionate to the risks encountered, and an early prioritisation of risks should be carried out.

So what does the risk assessment process for events involve? What are the main legal considerations? What is the best approach to control risks at events?

Legal aspects

The legal requirements that must be considered as part of the risk assessment process depend on the nature of the event.

The Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 will apply to most events and ss.2 and 3 are of particular importance. Section 2 requires organisers to ensure the health and safety of personnel employed for the event; s.3 covers the health and safety of third parties (non-employees) involved in the event. This includes, in particular, the visiting public as well as any contractors. The risk assessment should appreciate that some members of the public such as the young, old and disabled may require special measures.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 also apply. In particular regulation 3, requiring the provision of risk assessments, must be followed. It is also worth noting regulation 5, which requires employers to have arrangements in place to manage health and safety. Effective management of health and safety will depend, among other things, on a suitable and sufficient risk assessment being carried out and the findings being used effectively. A management system will be an important part of ensuring health and safety at events following the risk assessment process.

Other health and safety regulations may come into play, depending on the nature of the event. The use of hazardous chemicals is legislated by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002. Where noise levels are likely to rise, the Noise at Work Regulations 1989 need to be considered. Moving machinery may come under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 — and so on.

The erection of temporary demountable structures at entertainment events falls within the definition of “construction work” in the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM).

In addition to health and safety law, some events may also require licences from local authorities. Advice on licensing may be obtained from local councils.

It must also be remembered that the common law duty of care established through case law will also apply to events. The landmark case of Donoghue v Stevenson 1932 established the “neighbour” principle, whereby a duty of care is owed to all those who could “reasonably foreseeably” be affected by someone’s activities, eg at an event. The practical outcome of this and subsequent cases is that those injured or harmed at an event may be able to seek compensation in the civil courts.

The risk assessment process

Performing a risk assessment for an event can use exactly the same approach as for assessing any other activity. At the start of the risk assessment process, an early consideration should be made of the:

  • scale, type and scope of the event

  • type and size of audience

  • location

  • duration of the event

  • time of day and year the event will be held.

This initial consideration will be important to gauge the extent of the possible risks, and whether additional expert assistance or liaison with other bodies or organisations is required.

It is essential to examine what hazards may be associated with the event. These can be very varied and significant. The following list is not exhaustive but gives an indication of the types of hazard that may be encountered.

Electricity. Is electrical equipment to be used? What voltages will be present? Are generators to be used? Are there overhead cable hazards? What routing will electrical supplies take? Have environmental conditions been considered?

Slips and trips. This is a common cause of accidents. Have access and egress routes from the event been assessed? Are pedestrian routes level and even? Have tripping hazards been removed or highlighted?

Noise. Will people be exposed to levels that may affect their hearing? Are noise measurements needed? Will employees require hearing protection? Will neighbours be disturbed?

Machinery. Will dangerous moving parts of machinery be present? Is it properly guarded? Are any gaps in guards an issue if children are attending the event?

Inflatables. If inflatables, such as bouncy castles, are going to be used have steps been implemented to prevent serious incidents occurring such as one collapsing or being blown away in windy conditions? Will the use of it be stopped when the wind or gusts are in excess of the maximum safe wind speed specified by the manufacturer?

Transport. Will dangerous vehicles be present? Have traffic management procedures been considered? Are traffic routes segregated from pedestrians? Are speed limits, ramps, signs, etc required? Have the effects of bad weather been considered?

Structures. Will temporary structures such as staging, seating and marquees be erected? Have these structures been structurally assessed? What will be the loading? Does this meet requirements?

Lifting operations. Have these been assessed under the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998? Have all lifting operations involving lifting equipment been properly planned by a competent person, appropriately supervised and carried out in a safe manner?

Work at height. Is there any work where there is risk of falling and being injured? Can this work be avoided? If not, what precautions might be used?

First aid. How far is the event from emergency medical aid? Have first aid needs been assessed? Will there be a sufficient number of first aiders available? Will defibrillators be required?

Lasers. Will lasers, explosives or other special effects be used? Has specialist help been obtained?

Violence. Will staff be exposed to a risk of violence? What measures such as CCTV, security staff and training will be used?

Weather. How will the risks change if it is blazingly hot and sunny or pouring with rain and windy?

Fire. Has a fire safety risk assessment been carried out? Are there adequate means of escape should a fire occur? Is fire-fighting equipment required?

Environment. Has the effect of the event on the environment been considered? Are waste disposal measures in force? Is any hazardous waste likely to be generated?

Manual handling. Is hazardous manual handling likely to take place? Are lifting aids available? Have staff been trained?

Welfare. Are adequate welfare facilities available for both staff and the public?

Management system

On the basis of the risk assessment process a health and safety plan for the event should be put in place. Each specific hazard must be dealt with.

However, in order to ensure that the whole event is co-ordinated safely, a management system for the event should be implemented. This will include:

  • having health and safety arrangements in place to control risks

  • ensuring co-operation and proper co-ordination of work activities

  • providing employees and others with relevant information on any risks to their health and safety

  • ensuring the competence of staff and contractors to undertake their role safely

  • monitoring compliance with policies, procedures and risk assessments

  • reviewing the management system and taking appropriate action as necessary.


An appropriate management system must be in place for each phase of the event to make sure health and safety risks are controlled. This will include build up, load in and breakdown.


Co-operation and proper co-ordination of all work activities on the site must be in place. This includes monitoring the work of contractors and others involved in the event. Risk assessments must be adhered to.


The provision of information is a vital element of a successful health and safety management system. Information must be given to those participating in the event, including contractors and the visiting public.

This may include a general site induction and briefings about individual work activities or tasks. It may also include information on site hazards, emergency procedures, first aid and welfare arrangements. Effective signage can also be part of the information giving process.


Staff should be competent to undertake their role safely. There should also be an appropriate level of competent supervision. Qualifications, training and experience of those involved in the event may need to be checked, including contractors.

Monitoring and review

An important part of any management system is monitoring. The risk assessment should set out the frequency of checks, who is responsible for them, and the methods used. For small-scale events, a simple checklist may be sufficient.

For larger events, such as a festival, a number of people may share the monitoring role. Whoever has the role should be familiar with the risk assessment findings and control measures, and be able to identify new hazards and assess risks as they arise. Wherever possible, managers should be involved in the monitoring role.


Adequate risk assessment is essential to ensure that risks at events are properly managed. The assessments must be supported by an effective management system. Such action will reduce the risk of accidents and the legal action that is likely to follow.

See our detailed Event Planner — Guidance and Event Planner — Arrangements for more advice: