In events, risk management is about two things: taking steps to reduce the risks associated with an event; and putting plans in place to help you deal with what happens if those risks become a reality.
Of course, as event organisers, we’re all familiar with health and safety measures. But there are many other risks that events come with – from localised issues like the power cutting out to worldwide incidents like the Covid-19 pandemic hitting back in 2020 - and there’s always a chance of things going wrong on the day.
Here, we’ll look at how you can nail your event risk management and make sure you’re always one step ahead of any crisis that might come your way. Plus, you can download our free event risk management template to kickstart your event risk planning.
Why it's essential to carry out a risk assessment...
Event organisers are responsible for the safety and wellbeing of their attendees, staff, speakers, and exhibitors, and it's a legal requirement for them to carry out a "suitable and sufficient risk assessment" to ensure that any threats to safety are minimised.
By planning rigorously for the small risks as well as the big – and by putting a process in place for dealing with the unexpected – we can make sure we’re in the best possible position to deal with any issues that crop up, smoothly and professionally.
And where to start
While most organisers will be experienced in putting together risk assessments, it never hurts to review best practice and find advice from other professionals. Read our guidance below for the key pointers on how to create and use a risk assessment and management plan.
Looking for a template to start your own planning? Our free risk assessment template is designed to make the assessment process easier so you can focus on managing the event.
How Covid Has Changed The Way We Look At Event Safety
Event risk management has always been important. But since the Covid-19 pandemic, the way we look at event safety has changed hugely.
Firstly, the pandemic hasn’t entirely gone away and event safety is still dominated by measures that can reduce the likelihood of transmitting illnesses. There are all sorts of measures that have now become commonplace at events, which didn’t touch our horizons just a few years ago – from improved ventilation to hand sanitiser stations, one-way systems to reduced numbers.
We can expect many of these measures to stick around long after Covid has gone, as the pandemic has led to an increased focus on hygiene, and an awareness of how easily viruses can be spread. After all, just as nobody wants to catch Covid, most of us would prefer to avoid catching other illnesses like the common cold too!
Covid’s arrival also demonstrated just how fragile live events really are. Only a few years ago, nobody would have thought that events could be banned. Now we’ve seen that it’s possible, we’re much more likely to consider every eventuality when we plan our events – including the eventuality that something completely unexpected and unprecedented comes our way!
While it’s impossible to fully prepare for the unexpected, event professionals are less inclined to take their event plans for granted post-lockdowns. The most sensible will put steps in place to help them with efficient decision making if unforeseen circumstances threaten their event.
Finally, Covid forced eventprofs up and down the country (and around the world!) to innovate – and that spirit will continue on when we look to manage risk at future events. When live events were restricted, we saw a whole host of successful virtual and hybrid events spring up to take their place. This means that in a crisis where health and safety is threatened, eventprofs are much more likely to make an early call to move their events online, having seen how seamlessly this can work when done well.
Although Covid has brought with it many challenges and much heartache, there is a silver lining for the events industry: it’s given us a much-needed push to tighten up how we deal with risk management.
How To Create A Risk Management Plan
1. Identify Potential Risks
First things first, you’ll need to identify potential risks that could crop up for any event you have in the pipeline. This includes the health and safety risks that you’re used to including in risk assessments. But it also includes other kinds of risks to your event.
Of course, you should bear in mind localised issues, from equipment failing to security incidents and crowd management issues. But you should also consider major risks such as terror attacks, train strikes, someone falling ill at your event or national incidents (like when the Queen recently passed away).
It's true that some risks are more likely to occur than others. But the larger, less likely risks (such as a national incident occurring) will typically cause a greater impact, so they deserve just as much of your attention. Ultimately, the earlier you identify these risks, the more time you’ll have to plan for them before the day of your event rolls around.
Use our risk assessment template to list these risks and establish the severity and likelihood of these incidents happening.
2. Put Steps In Place To Mitigate Those Risks
Now that you have a list of potential risks, it’s time to think about how you can mitigate them, which is where your risk assessment comes in.
Make sure that you involve your employees in this stage of your risk management planning as this is generally the best way to protect your workers and visitors from harm. It's also important to liaise with other key parties, like the venue, suppliers, emergency services and where appropriate, the local authority – they'll all be able to put their own steps in place to help you mitigate the risks you've identified.
Of course, key to this is making sure that you select contractors and suppliers who you're confident will be able to provide a safe and reliable service. They should be able to demonstrate their knowledge of the health and safety hazards involved in their work and provide evidence their staff are competent and trained. Depending on what kind of work you're asking them to do, they should also be able to show you their qualifications, whether that's membership to an accreditation scheme or a trade association.
3. Create A Contingency Plan
No matter how carefully you try to prevent certain risks from occurring, there will always be some that you can't control, such as train strikes or nationwide incidents like the Queen passing away. While you might not be able to do anything to prevent them from happening, you can think of ways to reduce the impact these occurrences might have on your event.
That's where contingency plans come into play. As an event professional, you'll be used to contingency planning. For instance, any outdoor event will usually have a plan B for wet weather. You can apply the same logic to pretty much any other risk you may have identified earlier.
For instance, let's say that one of the risks you've identified is a train strike occurring. There are lots of steps you could put in place to reduce the impact this might have on your event, such as providing a shuttle service from key locations to your event, making sure your venue has adequate parking facilities or having a provision for turning your event hybrid at short notice.
By covering every eventuality, you’ll be as prepared as possible. Have a read of our guidance on creating a contingency plan - we've also shared a template in the article to help you get started!
4. Plan For The Unexpected
Now, as thorough as you are at this stage, there are some risks that you couldn’t possibly foresee. Let’s be honest, nobody would have thought to put a pandemic on their risk assessment before Covid came along! Of course, you can’t ever fully plan for the unexpected. But you can put steps in place that will help you to make fast, good decisions in the moment, if something unexpected does crop up. This includes considering how you’ll assess a new crisis, what key stakeholders need to be involved in making decisions and what steps you’ll take if you need to make a call about whether to postpone, cancel or go virtual with your event.
We’ll take a look at how you can plan for the unexpected in a moment.
5. Conduct An On-Site Safety Walkthrough
If you can, it's a good idea to get key team members onsite before the event itself for a safety walkthrough. This way, you can make sure your team is fully informed on what measures they should take in certain scenarios. After all, even with the most detailed risk assessment in place, it's easier for everyone to remember what they're doing when they've seen it in situ.
By getting members of the venue team involved as well, you can ensure that everyone is fully aligned on safety protocols, and that you're all singing from the same hymn sheet.
6. Put A Learning Process In Place
Finally, it’s important to always put an opportunity for learning and reflection in your plan. Just as we’ve learned so much about risk management from Covid, you’ll be able to continue building your awareness and strategy with every event you host.
Once your event is over, you’ll want to look into any issues that cropped up – could they have been avoided? How well did you handle them? By examining these things rigorously, you can learn from them and improve your risk management plan for the next event in your diary.
It's worth putting these learnings in writing, for instance in an assessment that you can refer back to at a later date. Be sure also to share your reflections with your team or, better still, brainstorm together. This can be a valuable way to get everyone aware of risks and mitigation measures for future events.
How To Deal With The Unexpected
As we’ve touched upon already, there are some risks that you can’t foresee, which makes them difficult to plan for. Don’t worry though, there are things you can do to manage them.
While the specifics might not be within your reach, by putting a process in place for how you’ll deal with unexpected problems, you’ll be able to deal with them quickly and efficiently when they arise. We’ve outlined some useful steps you can take to help.
Of course, crises can crop up at any point in the event planning process – you might have months, weeks, days or just minutes to deal with them. So, bear in mind that these steps may need adapting a little depending on where you are in your event’s timeline.
1. Understand The Crisis
To start with, when something unexpected happens, you’ll need to pause and take a moment to assess the situation. What’s the immediate risk? Which of your attendees are impacted? Is the situation constantly changing?
You may need to monitor the news on an ongoing basis, or you may have new guidelines and regulations to get your head around. It’s important that you take in all the details and information you can, as this will help you to understand how urgent the situation is, and to come to a decision on how to handle it.
2. Gather Your Team
Next, bring together the people you need to help you make decisions about your event.
You should consider in advance what key stakeholders will need to be involved in the case of an incident. This is likely to include the Head of Events and company CEO. It's important that there's a really clear chain of command, so everyone knows exactly who to report to should an incident happen and who it needs to be escalated to.
It's also worth planning how you'll contact these people if something happens. Consider having key numbers on speed dial or setting up a WhatsApp group for easy communication.
By putting in place a system for gathering all the key decision-makers in one place, you’ll be able to make sure you’re on the same page. You'll also be able to ensure that decisions can be made quickly and executed efficiently so that your event is impacted as little as possible.
3. Conduct A Risk Assessment
Now that you understand the nature of the crisis you’re facing, you can look at how exactly it will affect your event.
If you have enough lead time, now’s the time to create a detailed risk assessment that takes stock of the new crisis. Make sure to take into account factors like where the event is, where your attendees are coming from and how they might travel, to understand how many people will be affected and in what ways.
As you examine the risks of hosting your event, it’s also worth looking at things like your cancellation clause with suppliers and what your insurance covers – that way, you can use all the information available to help inform your decisions. Most contracts should include clauses about:
- Force majeure. These are acts, events, or circumstances beyond any human control. They include things like natural disasters and outbreaks. Your contract should include information about what will happen in these situations.
- Cancellations. There should be information included about who is allowed to cancel the event, on what grounds, how much notice is required and what happens if your event has to be cancelled. Ideally, you want it to be as flexible as possible!
- Insurance clauses. Insurance clauses should tell you which party is responsible for insuring each aspect of an event.
- Indemnity agreement. An indemnity agreement is a clause that protects one party (usually the venue) from any financial implications, liability and loss.
Take a look at our basic guidance to start thinking about risk planning for your event. You can also use Hire Space's risk assessment template and contingency planning template to ensure you've covered all bases for your event.
4. Choose How To Move Forward With Your Event
Once you’ve collated all the information you have available to you, consider whether you can safely and effectively move forward with your event in the form you had originally planned. The chances are you’ll be deciding whether to cancel, postpone, go virtual (or hybrid), or plough ahead with additional measures in place.
When you’re considering the best option for your event, you’ll need to consider more than just the health and safety implications (although these should, of course, come first!). You’ll also need to think about how your decision could impact your finances, reputation and adherence to laws and regulations.
It’s often at this stage that you’ll want to talk to your venue and suppliers (if you haven’t already). They might be able to collaborate with you to help you find a solution – whether that’s adding some flexibility into your agreement, bringing in hybrid event technology or putting their own measures in place to help mitigate any new risks.
Now that you know how you’re going to move forward, you’ll need to communicate your decision more widely. Even if you’re going ahead with your event in the same format you’d originally planned, communication is still important to avoid confusion and keep attendees in the loop. For instance, communicating any additional safety measures you’ll be implementing to keep delegates safe is likely to help settle any fears they have.
Think about how you inform:
- Your internal team
- Your venue
- Your suppliers
- Your attendees
- Your sponsors or investors
Your decision will affect them all in different ways, so it’s usually best to create separate messaging for each group. Make sure you think about the order in which you communicate your decision too. The chances are you’ll want to speak to your sponsors before you communicate with your attendees – after all, the last thing you want is them finding out you’ve cancelled your event via an attendee’s post on social media!
Risk Assessment Template
To create your own in-depth template, use Hire Space's risk assessment template, available to download for free below. Let's make sure we're always one step ahead of a crisis!
Download Risk Assessment Template
Stay ahead of a crisis with our ready-to-use risk assessment template