Safety at Events... Who Takes Responsibility?

Safety at events: it is something we think we have under control, until something goes wrong. Maarten van Rijn still doesn't have all the answers yet, but asks the right questions which have the industry thinking.

Kevin Van der Straeten
Comment on this tv episode

Do you have an account on Log in here
Do not have an account yet? Write your comment here:

Also available as a podcast:

Also on podcast:

Listen on Google PodcastsListen on Apple PodcastsListen on Shopify


Safety at events: it is something we think we have under control, until something goes wrong. Maarten van Rijn still doesn't have all the answers yet, but asks the right questions which have the industry thinking.


Hi Maarten, welcome in our studio. 


Nice to be here, thanks very much.  


We're going to talk about safety on events. If it goes wrong on an event it's dramatic. How do we handle that safely at events? What questions do we need to ask ourselves? 


Well, the main thing is for me: who is deciding for the authorization of a certain event in a city or on a site? Who is actually saying: "yes you can go on with this event"? Based on what? Is there just somebody who is working for the municipality? Or is it a group, a team of people, with all different kinds of skills and knowledge? They asses the contingency plans and say: "because we know from different points of view, looking from different angles, that this is a safe event, safely organized, and I think in most of the cases in the Netherlands, that's not the case. It's just like: okay, there is an organizing party and they suggest a certain event, There are the rules from the government: if you fulfill the rules, then it's okay. But is that nowadays, based on the amount of people, based on the size of events, is that compatible? Is that correct that we do it that way? Or should we do it differently? 


But then we are also talking about responsibility. 


I think there are actually three parties to have a responsibility in this case. The first one is the organizer. If you organize a very big event and you do that for your customer, your customer should be satisfied, he should be happy and he needs to come back next year because that's your business. So morally you are responsible for their safety as well. And not only the government, the second party, who is hosting the event on their premises. Yes, they give the authority for the event and they have the responsibility, but they are not the only ones. It's the moral responsibility of the organizer and it's the government. But the third party is the visitor himself, because if take for example a big storm is coming, and the organization committee together with the government says: "Listen, in two hours time there will be a big storm over our heads and we want to evacuate the whole scene", what is the audience doing? 


They want their money back.  


They want their money back. No way they are leaving, because the sun is still shining, beautiful weather, well they can... consult the smart phones: well, it's just a little bit of rain. So they are responsible as well, so they should behave accordingly. There must be a triangle in that perspective. They should be aware that safety is not a 100% guaranteed by both the government and the organization party, so they have a responsibility themselves as well. But mainly, organizer and government. 


When it goes wrong, everybody has something to say: "they should have done it that way, that way, or that way. But that is afterwards, that's very easy. How do we come to a way of working where we can up-front, before the event, take an inventory of the risks and do a good assessment on: is this a safe event or not? What do we need?  


Well, I think this should be a standard, there should be a standard way of ranking events. Five stars is a safe event and the five stars are coming from the industry itself. Because the industry itself organizes safety-requirements for all kinds of events. And the only way to do that is to work together with different disciplines, so there is a multi-disciplinary view on the safety of your event. Not only for health purposes, not only for fire brigades, not only for... But the whole mixture of stakeholders should be involved in the discussion. Then there should be a risk assessment which is a standard, where you can calculate the different risks and you discuss that between the different parties. That guarantees you the most optimal situation on safety known by the people who should know. And that will set the standard for safety elements. And I think that's the important thing to do together.   


But then is it the industry itself that needs to take action and not the government, or...? 


No, I think if the government does it, then it will be very strictly and there are two ways the government will handle: no events at all, because they don't want to take any responsibility anymore. Or: they exaggerate and they make it so strict that the cost will be enormous. And the government doesn't have a clue about safety on events. They are not equipped, well not all... Of course the bigger governments know exactly how many events and what can happen. But not all the governments have that. In small cities they don't have that.They've got one event or two big events every year and that's it. And you can't have just one municipality employee who is doing only that festival for the rest of his life. That's ridiculous, so there should be more training and education. Training and education to educate people to look at those kinds of events with the skills to do a good risk assessment. With a multi-disciplinary view on that. So if you upgrade that level of education by people involved; organizers, government, other stakeholders, then the whole safety level of events in the Netherlands will increase. And then you can rank it with stars. And if it's a five-star event, it still doesn't say that the audience is just going there and everything is arranged. No, there is always a responsibility for the audience as well. 


If you look for example at soccer-stadia. They need to be emptied in 10-12 minutes and there are very strict rules for that. But at events we have the same amount of people or even more, and not the same rules or at least they're not clear. 


My point: why are we organizing it in stadiums where you can do it every 14 days you have 50.000 people, maybe more, inside. If something happens, it should be empty in 10 minutes. Now we're organizing an event, a festival on a field, very rough... If something happens in the stadium where it's rough, it's not allowed. It should be real flat, otherwise people can stumble over it when there is a rush. But we accept that in events. It's strange. What's the rules and regulations? Who is responsible morally or actually? 


But then we are also talking about training and knowledge, I guess. If you have to decide to permit an event to take place, you need to have the right training and education. 


The event industry should be more cooperative with knowledge institutes. Nowadays, it's my thing, it's my event, it's my knowledge, and they keep it to themselves. And if you do that, and everybody does that, there is no exchange of knowledge. So we can't improve, in my perspective, the way we should improve, because it's needed. Because of the big size of the events nowadays. 


Those are a lot of questions. Let's see who comes with the answers. Maarten, thank you very much for coming over.  


Thank you very much, my pleasure.  


And you at home, thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week!