Who do I Sue- a guide to Risk Assessment for venues?

This article by me was first published in CX magazine March 2010

I hurt my Toe, who do I sue

In this day of let us sue someone I have hurt my big toe; I wonder how many venues are supplying clients with risk assessment documentation to fill out.

Do venues go through evacuation procedures with the clients, like the Stage manager or production coordinator? Do they check that the client has an approved First Aid Kit? Does the client have an OH& S policy and who is their responsible officer? And does the client have insurance? This does not mean that the venue gets away with not doing anything. The venue also needs to comply with a whole raft of legislation to ensure the safety of their clients. The venue has a duty of care to its workers as well as the clients that hire the space. Venues can be pro-active in the risk assessment field by providing guide lines such as a site safety booklet, and this will provide guidance for the client.

When you think about risk assessment you think it is more paperwork and more bureaucracy. But we have been doing risk assessment all our lives.  When you go to cross a road you look both ways and then make a judgement call on whether to walk or not, this is a risk assessment. It is a process of common sense. It is not a process of trying to stop an event happening it is a process of making sure if it happens, it happens safely with the minimum of risk. It is the use of the information that is important with the risk assessment process. From the information gathered you should be able to work out ways to do certain tasks better and safer.

If we were to take risk assessment to the extreme; a stage would be level with the audience, not raised. The audience seating would be level, there would be no black outs or bright lights into to the casts eyes, you would have no make up on. As you can see it would become boring and rather plain.  This is what would happen if we eliminated all risks, but that is not what we are about. Risk assessment and management is about examination of the risk and working out a way to make it happen safely and minimise the risk. We don’t want to stop events, only make them safer.

The risk assessment document can be daunting document to most clients, but even if it looks too hard they are still obliged to complete one. Many venues have it as a condition of hire. Any venue that does not is tangling with a potential minefield. The reasoning behind asking a client fill out this document is to make the client aware of what they are legally obliged to cover.  This document proves to the venue that they, the client, are aware of the inherent dangers of their event and their obligations to their cast, crew and audience. Yes audience – they are also responsible for what can happen to their audiences in a lot of cases. This is something that they often forget. They just need to remember they are hiring the venue and part of their responsibility is towards their audience who they are charging to see the performance. The client, like the venue, has a duty of care to their audience. This is really the premise of the occupational health and safety act – duty of care. Now if a risk assessment has not been filled in by the client and there is an accident, the responsibility is going to fall on the venue as they had not made sure that the event was properly risked assessed. The risk assessment shows that not only is the client aware of the risk but has also thought about how they are going to control that risk.

Risk assessment is a two street between the client and the venue, the venue needs to state its emergency procedures and the way it likes things to be run safely and the client has to make sure that their event is safe and complies with all regulations. If they are unsure of something they can always ring the venue, as most venues are more than happy to advise the client on such matters. Other venues like the Mildura Arts Centre produces guides to help clients, theirs being about flying scenery. All of this information could be put together in a guide for hirers etc. This guide could also list nearby facilities etc.  Another really useful site to have a look at is the Playbill Venues site. This is an extremely well thought out site. If you are client of this organisation it is so easy to get information on risk assessments and the venues OH&S policies. In fact other venues should have a look at what Playbill have done.

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Now if a client has an accident at their event, who is to be notified? Well if the accident is due to a fault by the venue, the venue has to be notified as soon as practical. But if the accident is the fault of the client, who do they notify besides their insurance company? Do they need to tell the venue that an incident has happened that is not the fault of the venue. This is a bit of a grey area I feel. The venue should give you guidelines but you as the client also need to have your own guidelines, such as report all incidents and then work out after the event who is responsible for what.  The venue will have a standard incident report form for you to fill out, but it will do no harm if you have your own form as well. Documentation can save you from all sorts of hassles. Hope fully you will never need to go down the legal path, as I stated before Risk Assessment and Occupational Health and Safety is a matter of common sense. But as always get advice from your local government as thing do vary from state to state. We are here to entertain not sue.   Probably the best to advise people is to err on the side of caution – if they’re not sure if they need to report something, do it anyway just in case.  People need to make themselves familiar with the legal requirements of the OH&S acts in their states, especially the fact that certain serious incidents are required to be report to the appropriate authority. At the moment there are state to state variations of the Acts but with in the next year or so there will come into force a federal Work Health and Safety Bill that will replace the states own Acts.

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