Update: Due to evolving advice and protocols in place on events to control COVID-19, we understand that event creator challenges and priorities have changed. For the most up to date advice regarding the coronavirus pandemic, see our dedicated page of tips and resources here.

As an event organiser, you have a duty of care to both your attendees and your staff. The larger your event, the more detail required in your health and safety planning. But even for small events, it is an important consideration.

This means taking reasonable steps to prevent harm coming to anyone involved in your event and forward planning in case of any emergency situations that could arise. Conducting a risk assessment might seem like a daunting prospect, but it doesn’t have to be a big, bureaucratic process — it’s ultimately about being conscientious and prepared.

Follow this guide to identify potential hazards in your event and take the necessary steps to protect yourself and others.

Assess the suitability of your venue

Start with a written profile of your event, including all the activities that will take place and the estimated audience size and demographics (i.e. children, the elderly or disabled will have different needs). With this in mind, visit your event venue to assess its suitability.

  • Capacity – Can your attendees be safely accommodated inside the venue? Will they be standing or seated? Is there room to circulate? Are there pinch points where overcrowding could occur?
  • Access – Is there sufficient access to the event site/venue for pedestrians and vehicles? Are people with disabilities, wheelchairs or pushchairs able to access the venue? Are there enough emergency exits? (See the Australian Network on Disability’s Event Accessibility Checklist)
  • Hazards – Does the site have any existing hazards, such as overhead electric powerlines or buried services that your structures could interfere with? Is it prone to flooding, high winds, or in a potential bushfire zone? Consider ground conditions and topography when positioning any temporary structures.
  • Facilities – How far away are the nearest hospital and fire station? What are the public transport links like? Consider the infrastructure you need for your event.

Once you have confirmed the suitability of your venue, draft a site plan indicating where the structures, facilities, fencing lines, entrances, and exits will be. Make the plan available to all contractors, suppliers, and staff working on the event.

Read more: Essential Tips for Finding the Right Venue for Your Event

Carry out a risk assessment

Now you need to think about any risks to safety that might be present at your event and rate their risk level. Use a scale from 1-5, with 1 presenting a negligible risk and 5 presenting a very severe risk.

  • Trip or equipment hazards – Are there any cables or guy ropes that people could trip over? Is there glass people could bump into? Could people come into contact with generators or other electrical equipment? Is there equipment that could get wet?
  • Crowd management hazards – Could crushing/overcrowding occur? How would aggressive behaviour or misconducted be handled (and is alcohol involved)? Could people be at risk around roads or car parks?
  • Crew hazards – How will you protect those working for you from lifting and carrying injuries? If you invest in lifting equipment does it comply with safety regulations (which can differ from state to state)? Check out Safe Work Australia’s manual for lifting, pushing and pulling for a guide.
  • First aid hazards – Could people become injured through the activities of your event? What injuries could occur? Could attendees suffer heat exhaustion in high temperatures? Have a strategy in place for dealing with first aid issues should they occur, from minor injuries to critical situations.
  • Weather hazards – Could the ground become slippery when wet? Could the wind pose a risk to the stability of your structures, or kick-up harmful dust storms? Could equipment get wet or become overheated? Is there a risk of bushfires at the time of your event? Many Australian event planners have the added concern of high UV levels to consider, and should use this SunSmart Shade Audit tool when assessing hazards.
  • Environmental hazards – Could your event activities damage the venue or site? Could rubbish pose a risk to local wildlife? Could contamination occur from any spillages? (Sustainability is one of the key considerations for event planners in 2020).
  • Fire hazards – How will you control smoking in the venue or onsite? Could campers use barbeques or stoves? Could an electrical fire occur? Are there fire extinguishers and fire safety procedures in place?
  • Catering hazards – Could ovens or hot water urns cause a risk? How will food allergies be handled? Are the containers for hot food and drink suitable?
  • Child protection hazards – Is there a risk of children becoming lost? Could there be allegations or abuse or neglect? Remember that in Australia, for any work that is “child-related”, all staff require a valid Working With Children Check.

Write down all possible risks and who is at risk — be it attendees, crew, members of the public, or the venue itself. Then write down how you will mitigate and manage each risk. This does not need to mean reams of paperwork, just note the basic measures, such as having a first-aider on-site and accident report book. Place extra focus on your most severe risks, which must be prioritised and timetabled to reduce risk to an acceptable level.

The law does not expect you to able to anticipate unforeseeable risks, but it’s worth collaborating with your team for the risk assessment, as they may notice things that are not obvious to you.

You should also work closely with your event suppliers, such as caterers, marquee and AV companies, asking to see their own risk assessments and method statements so you can mitigate risk together. Where appropriate, you should also involve the local authority and emergency services.

For more information on creating and completing an event risk assessment, visit your local council or state governments website for a guide — like this from the City of Monash: Events Risk Assessment Guidelines.

Create an emergency plan

It’s important to plan for any situations that will require urgent action. This could be anything from a fire to a stage collapsing or a terrorist incident. Even bad weather could create an emergency situation.

Develop emergency procedures to be followed by anyone working on the event and discuss your plans with the venue management. For larger events and/or those not in a fixed venue, include police, fire and rescue service and the ambulance service in your consultation.

  • Raising the alarm – How will you communicate the emergency with staff and volunteers?
  • Informing the public – Do you have an adequate public address system? What is the procedure for stopping (and potentially restarting) the event?
  • Onsite emergency response – Are there fire extinguishers? Does the venue have an adequate evacuation plan? Do you need security staff?
  • Summoning and liaising with the emergency services – Who will be your point of contact and how will you assist the emergency services? What is your escalation procedure?
  • Crowd management, including evacuation – How will you move people away from immediate danger to a place of safety? Do you have a plan B and C in place in case something goes wrong? Don’t forget to take people with limited mobility and children into consideration.
  • Traffic management – How will emergency vehicles gain access to the site? How will vehicles move around the site in the event of an emergency?
  • Providing first aid – Are their sufficient medical provisions?
  • Handling casualties – How will patients be taken to a hospital? Will there be ambulances onsite?

Testing and validation of your emergency plan can take the form of a tabletop exercise, where you and your appointed team members work through a range of scenarios and establish the communication procedures and effectiveness of your responses.

Implementing event health and safety measures

As the event organiser, you are responsible for managing your staff, suppliers, and attendees to ensure they are not exposed to risk at all the different phases of the event, from set-up to bump-out. And Australian event organisers face unique challenges in creating a safe environment.

Many Australian event organisers realised this in early 2020 when the devastating bushfire crisis forced some of the biggest NYE celebrations in the country to cancel their events. These decisions would not have come easy, but ultimately the event organisers were widely praised for having clear and direct risk assessment procedures, and sticking to them.

Unfortunately, festivals in Australia have also been marred by incidents of violence, harassment, and sexual assault in recent years. This has resulted in mounting pressure on event organisers to minimise harassment and take action when it occurs, leading to the creation of resources such as the Your Choice website to help mitigate the risk.

Many event organisers are tackling this by communicating their zero-tolerance policy publicly — such as Meredith Music Festival’s famous No D*ckhead Policy.

Read more: How to Create a Safe Festival Environment this Summer

Your Event’s Health and Safety Plan

Monitor risks throughout your event by creating a checklist and having nominated individuals responsible for checking at regular intervals. A clear and competently implemented paper trail is the best way for event organisers to mitigate risk.

These risk assessment and health and safety tips should put you on the right path for planning a safe event. Don’t be overwhelmed — health and safety at smaller events in designated venues can often be addressed very quickly working with the venue management. For larger events, download Planning an Outdoor Festival in Australia: Essentials of a Sell-Out Summer Event for further guidance.