The importance of health and safety

It’s the sort of thing that makes some people sigh. Organisers might even dread this element of event planning. Health and safety is often seen as a complicated or daunting prospect. But it’s quite the opposite.

It’s largely about applying common sense, taking reasonable steps to stop any harm coming to anyone involved in the event, and what to do if an emergency arises. As such, the requirements for a coconut shy will be different to a charity run. It’s a risk-based approach.

What the law says

Most events will be a work activity. In other words, at least one person is employed during all stages of the event. As such, the event is subject to Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HASWA) and subsidiary legislation. All the following people have a duty to protect the health and safety of workers, as well as anyone affected by their work activities:

It’s all about determining adequate safety precautions, as you can see from the main requirements:

  • Section 2(1) of the HASWA requires that employers ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees so far as is reasonably practicable.

  • Section 2 (2)(a) of the HASWA requires employers to provide and maintain plant and systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health.

  • Section 3 of the HASWA requires employers to conduct their undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that people who are not their employees (e.g. guests, members of the public and contractors) are not exposed to risks to their health and safety.

  • Source: HASWA

Most events will be a work activity. In other words, at least one person is employed during all stages of the event. As such, the event is subject to Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HASWA) and subsidiary legislation. All the following people have a duty to protect the health and safety of workers, as well as anyone affected by their work activities:

With unlimited fines for breaching health and safety laws, can you afford to ignore your duties?

Dealing with contractors

Anyone who works on the project should be invested in the success of the event, including safety aspects. It’s important that everyone from venue managers and staff to local authorities is aware of the steps you’ve taken to make sure the event runs smoothly. A lot of these people – including anyone who you contract to work on the event – will have a huge part to play. They might also have valuable insight to provide.

A lot of contractors will work on events all the time, so they’ve got experience on the health and safety requirements of what they do. A contractor is any suppliers of goods and services, and could include:

Before you hire anyone, HSE suggest making sure they can:

  • Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of their work and the health and safety hazards involved

  • Provide evidence of a trained workforce and the competence of key staff for the project

  • Confirm they have sufficient resource levels to do the work

  • Provide evidence of previous successful work that shows they can adopt and develop safe systems of working

  • In the absence of experience of previous work, they can demonstrate an appropriate level of technical ability (e.g. being a member of an accreditation scheme, professional organisation or trade association may help with this)

Hiring the right contractors can help – or hinder – your health and safety efforts. Working with people who are used to the demands of event planning is valuable.

Advice for food and alcohol consumption

A lot of events will provide food and drink. If you want to serve food, there are a few things recommend you confirm:

  • Whether the food preparation and serving areas are clean and in good condition – this includes all facilities and equipment

  • They should also be in a good position so the food doesn’t become contaminated by things like pests or waste

  • Whether the washing up facilities are adequate – think about the number of people attending

  • If someone will be available to answer any questions about allergies, the ingredients of the food and its origins

These are good questions to ask venue managers if you’re booking somewhere to host your event. It can give you one less thing to worry about – having a team of experienced individuals to deal with the food.

Food labelling has become more of a priority in recent years, but it’s only a requirement for registered food businesses to follow regulations, including at one-off events. If you’re providing food, but not as a business, it can be helpful to indicate whether any food contains common allergens. Your local council should also have food safety officers who can provide advice.

If you’re serving drinks, make sure you’re licensed to serve alcohol and consider non-alcoholic options too.

Managing alcohol intake

Depending on the event you’re organising, there’s a chance people will drink alcohol and with that comes the risk people will drink too much. So, what can you do?

  • If you’re providing free alcoholic drinks, consider allocating a set number of tickets for each attendee

  • If you’ve got a bar where people can buy their own drinks, hire experienced staff who can say no when someone has had enough

  • Create enough other entertainment so people have plenty to do

  • Hire security staff if you think people are likely to drink at your event – it’s always better to be prepared

  • Make sure people have a safe way of getting home and publicise the transport options available

Managing crowds safely

Crowding can happen when people gather in the same place – so it’s natural it could happen around attractions or when events take place. One of the first steps is to work out your expected turnout, based on things like:

Source: HSE

If your event runs over more than one day, consider which days will be more popular and whether extra resources will be needed on those days. The overall aim is to get an idea of expected turnout so you can work out the capacity of your venue and put controls in place, if necessary. These could include:

There will be trouble spots where crowding is more likely to occur – including stairs, popular attractions, refreshment areas, and any places you pay – so may more attention to these areas.

Your other priority should be ensuring any risk assessment considers the varying needs of different people coming to your event – for example, young kids, disabled or elderly people. They might require adjustments to your plan to overcome accessibility problems.

On the day or days of your event, you alone can’t be responsible for monitoring the crowds. The earlier you spot any potential issues, the sooner you can act. You should make your staff aware of their responsibilities:



The layout of the event site, including facilities, entrances, exits and first aid

Times of when the event starts and expects to finish, as well as when any main attractions start

Arrangements for evacuating the venue, if needed (teams usually have coded messages so they’re not overheard and misunderstood)

Helping those with special needs

Managing and directing crowds, including preventing any misuse of seats or furniture

Investigating any issues and communicating back to the right people

Controlling car parking