Thursday, September 2, 2010

Safety Considerations for Your "SPECIAL" Day

Yesterday I watched my daughter's first gymnastics competition. All the preparation that these girls put into showing off their skills, all of the hard work by the coaches, the investment of time and money by the parents, the beautiful facility...paid off today. It was indeed a "special" event. But WHAT IF...??? Something went wrong??? What if someone were injured? Were we prepared?

Last year, at my older daughter's Junior Olympic swim meet, a swimmer fainted. EMT was on the scene, she was assessed, treated, and transported for proper follow up care without a hitch...the safety plan was in effect and it worked.

Planning a "special event", whether it be a wedding, fundraiser, parade, community gathering, concert in the park, or marathon....requires detailed planning and preparation. Part of that planning should include safety considerations. This blog is dedicated to helping you put on a safe event.

1. Designate a responsible "Safety" Team Leader who will be the go-to person and is fully aware of the event's planning, schedule, and safety plan and should oversee or be familiar with the rest of the points discussed below:

2. Location- Select a location that is adequate for the # of participants and spectators, accessible by all (keep in mind guests with disabilities), has adequate, accessible restroom facilities, exits are well marked, fire extinguishers and smoke detectors are in good order, all surfaces are smooth, non-slip, and even, outdoor sprinklers are turned off. Check that indoor and outdoor lighting are adequate, and parking is adequate and safe. Ensure that your insurance will cover you for any risk you assume in the venue's lease or rental agreement. (send a copy of the lease or agreement to your insurance broker for review. You will want to make sure you are only agreeing to be liable for those things over which you have control.)

3. Food Service- Plan for proper refrigeration and heating, proper food service (don't want guests burning themselves on hot, spilled coffee!) If you are having the event caterred, ask the vendor to provide you with a copy of their insurance certificate and an endorsement naming you as "additional insured".

4. Alcohol- I once had a client call me and tell me that several of the "members" in his club got DUI's returning home from after-parties from their races. If there had been an accident, that club would be liable for supplying the alcohol and allowing the participant to drive home intoxicated. First, check to see if you can have a licensed vendor serve the alcohol. If not, you'll need a procedure for checking ID's, and those serving alcohol should be trained to serve/not serve patrons as appropriate. Cut off the booze service 2 hours prior to ending your event as a precaution.

5. Staffing Needs- Make sure you have enough staff or volunteers to cover: parking, security, first aid, crowd control, food, entertainment, set up and tear down, hospitality for vendors, etc. Each individual should be responsible for a task and this should be clear to the team. "Runner" positions are handy in filling in the unexpected gaps. If your event involves supervision of children, plan for several adults to assist (no one-on-one with children), and ensure that there are enough adults for the number of children being supervised. The "recommended" ratio of adults to children varies, but for ages 7 and under=3:1, 8 and up= 5:1. This is up to your own discretion, and not a "rule of thumb".

6. Security- A nonprofit once held a beauty pageant in a public park. They hired armed security for the event. A man with a gun came to the event, shot into the crowd and injured a volunteer. The hired security shot back and killed the man. His family sued the organization for the wrongful death of their loved one. This sounds backwards, but crazy things happen! If possible, hire UNARMED security for your event if you need to hire a professional security company. Consider partnering with your local police department for public events. If you are managing your own security, make sure you know the laws for escorting troublemakers. (No search and seizure, no detaining guests.)

7. Planning for Emergencies- Every event should have a basic emergency plan, and depending on the size and type of event, you may want to hire an EMS professional. First Aid kit should be stocked and on site, and in the care of your first aid staff or volunteer. At least, this individual should know CPR and First Aid. "Incident Report Forms" should be on hand as well to be completed in the event of an injury. You should be aware in advance how long it will take for emergency medical personnel to arrive on scene in the event of an emergency. You may want to contact your local fire dept. off ahead of time and let them know where you will be/what you're doing, if the event is risky/remote.

8. Vendors/Collaborative Events- If you allow vendors (booths, entertainment, food, etc.) at your event, you should determine who you expect to assume the liability for their actions. You can (A) assume liability under your insurance for all of their actions, and in that case, you'll want to check with your liability carrier to make sure you're properly coverred for this exposure, or (B) ask the vendor to cover their own liability and provide you with a certificate of insurance and endorsement naming you as additional insured on their policy. The same applies to collaborative events. Don't assume your collaborators have insurance to cover their actions- discuss this ahead of time, and determine whose coverage will apply in the event it is called for.

9. Waivers- If you are holding an event where guests "participate" in a sport, athletic activity (such as a 5k run or swim), church camp, soccer tournament,'ll want to have them sign a participant waiver ahead of time. If you have volunteers, you may also want to have them sign a waiver for their "volunteer participation". Waivers should be very clear and address the activity being held, should specify the organization(s) requesting the waiver, be easy to read, require a signature and date, and the person signing the waiver should receive it and have the opportunity to review it BEFORE the day of the event. It's not appropriate to have a waiver signed a couple minutes before the start of an event. Waivers should be reviewed by legal counsel. If legal counsel is not available, ask your insurance company to provide you with a waiver sample or template that you can edit. Waivers do not necessarily absolve you of liability, however, they help you ensure that your guests understand the risks that they are subjecting themselves to, and this understanding discourages them from holding you responsible if they are injured.

10. Photo/Media Release- I once worked for a nonprofit who held a "dress for success" event for men re-enterring the workforce. The press was invited and took photos of a great looking male makeover and published his story in the newspaper. The D.A. saw the article and tracked down the man who was "wanted" and he was arrested the next day. Maybe this guy belonged in jail, but many times, events are held and group photos are taken by guests or volunteers and posted to social networking sites without proper permission. This can be dangerous to the organization...say, if the guest is a survivor of domestic violence or it's a minor with custody issues. Always be sure to obtain media releases from all guests. You can add this language to your waiver form.

11. Before/During/After the Event- The Safety team leader should arrive early and begin event setup well in advance of the event. A site walk-through to checks for hazards should be conducted and each volunteer/staff should be briefed and understand their role. The site should be free from spills, wet areas, and unsafe obstacles. Warning cones or tape should be used to restrict access to areas that are unsafe, wet, or where access is prohibited. Communications between staff/volunteers should be simple. Walkie-talkies are handy when posts are assigned, or a "runner" should be available to aid in communicating between individuals assigned to a fixed position and the safety team leader. In the event of emergency or injury, the proper first aid/care should be addressed, and an "Incident Report" should be completed. This report will gather all of the pertinent information (witnesses, phone numbers, site description, photo if available) to report to your insurance company, if necessary. Clean-up crew should make sure the event area is clean, clear of obstacles, food is properly stored, all utilites are properly shut off, and location is secure.

If you'd like sample waivers, safety checklists, hold harmless agreements, incident reports, etc...let me know, and I'll be happy to help you.

Now for my disclaimer....This blog is intended to assist you in planning a safe event, to put you into the mindset of planning for safety. I've gathered this information from several insurance carrier's "best practices" and have added bits of my personal event planning experience. It is in NO WAY guaranteeing that an unforseen incident will not occur or that these suggestions are adequate for your event. Happy planning!

1 comment:

  1. An excellent blog post, Stephanie! I have endorsed it, and discussed additional issues specifically pertaining to risk management of special events in community association, in my blog at