Managing event risks

Dec 9, 2020

As this year’s Bathurst 1000 has been run and won and the AFL and Rugby finals completed, our Commercial and Sports Law team reflect on the management of event risks.  Sven Burchartz, a long-time motorsport category manager, team owner and competitor, reflects on his firsthand personal experiences managing event risks.  Having been involved in the management of Bathurst, Formula 1 Grands Prix in Australia and internationally as well as other major events, Sven brings a wealth of experience to this subject.

All events regardless of type, size and location bring with them a plethora of risks that if not managed correctly can expose event organisers to legal liability and result in adverse financial and reputational consequences.  These can also affect an organisers ability to secure approval for future events and insurance coverage.

Here are some key takeaway points for event organisers to consider.

The importance of a risk management plan

An event risk management plan is an essential aspect of event planning, regardless of its size and complexity. It is important the plan covers the entire duration of the event from set up (bump in) to dismantling (bump out), not just during the event itself. The plan should identify all potential risks that may arise from conducting an event. The Australian/New Zealand Standard (AS ISO 31000:2018), Risk Management Guidelines, provides authoritative guidance to support event organisers to develop a risk management plan.  Standards Australia also publish a range of subject specific handbooks for managing risks in certain environments (e.g. Motorsport, sport and recreation).  The event risk management plan should take a holistic approach to identifying, assessing and listing the steps event organisers will take to reduce or mitigate risk.  Event risks do not only relate to injury or life risk but also cover internal and external risks that may impact on the successful conduct of the event (e.g. severe bushfire risk that may impact on the event site, heat wave and the impacts on attendees and equipment, failure or damage to equipment, infrastructure failure and injury or illness to key personnel).  Many risks are out of the event organiser’s control, but this does not absolve the organisers from the need to identify, assess and mitigate these risks.  The development of a risk assessment matrix to determine the probability and risk score, applying the likelihood and consequence methodology contained within AS ISO 31000:2018, is an important component of the event risk management plan.  The development and execution of a comprehensive event risk management plan is key to mitigating the potential liability of the event organiser and more importantly the safe and successful conduct of the event.

Waivers and disclaimers

The inclusion of waivers and disclaimers on ticket information, supply contracts and participant agreements is not a panacea to protecting organisers from liability, and need to be carefully drafted and applied.  In more high risk environments like motorsport, the acceptance by event attendees and participants of the voluntary assumption of risk is an important element to protecting event organisers from liability.  Some States have specific legislation that also protects event organisers from liability where people engage in high risk recreational activities.  Providing attendees and participants with appropriate warning of the risks and potential consequences is required.  This places an obligation on event organisers to provide this information to attendees and participants in easy to understand language before and during the event.  This may include during the process of purchasing tickets, upon entry to the event site, signing of particular waivers prior to undertaking certain activities, signage and ongoing advice during the event.

Volunteers

Many events rely upon the tireless support of volunteers. Volunteers have been granted protection from civil liability in all jurisdictions, including the Commonwealth.   This is to ensure society fosters and encourages volunteerism and recognises that an act or omission made honestly or in good faith without recklessness should not incur liability.  Some jurisdictions exclude conduct that creates a serious risk to the health and safety of the public, is violent or illegal.  Volunteer immunity does not necessarily extend to protecting event organisers from liability.  On this basis it is extremely important to ensure volunteers are registered, their duties are clearly defined, they are inducted to the site/role and are provided with the correct training and protective equipment necessary to fulfil their role.  This will not only ensure the management of the event by volunteers is efficient and effective but also that event organisers fulfil their duty of care to volunteers.

Child Safety

A large portion of events are tailored specifically for the enjoyment of children and families.  This brings with it an obligation ensure every event that involves a minor is child safe.  Published child safety standards should form the basis of the development of an event child safe plan.  Ensuring an event is child safe is broader than ensuring event organisers have a current working with children check.  It involves its own child safe risk assessment and treatments.

Emergency and Crisis Management Plans

Event organisers need to ensure that an emergency and crisis management plan is in place.  It is too late when something goes wrong to develop a plan on the run, when emotions are high and actions need to be taken immediately.  With the prolific use of social media, the news and content about crisis events will be public from the time they occur.  Our team have managed incidents involving critical injuries and fatalities in motorsport and other events, with these unfortunately being made public prior to families being notified.  Whilst this can’t be controlled in today’s environment, event organisers responses to emergency events can be and are heavily scrutinised from the time they occur through to the completion of more formal investigation processes (e.g. Coronial Inquests).  This emphasises the importance of an event specific emergency and crisis management plan that details the location of the emergency control point, roles, responsibilities, internal/external contact details and actions that will be taken from a simple incident (e.g. a lost child or fainting) through to a major incident (e.g. infrastructure failure, mass causalities and/or fatalities).  Emergency and crisis management plans should be developed in consultation with emergency services and be exercised and tested prior to the event.

The KKI Commercial and Sports Law team can assist event organisers to prepare the necessary documents and plans to successfully manage an event and mitigate potential legal exposures for event organisers.  Contact our team if you would like to discuss further.